Tag Archives: Conflict

Group Work – Overcoming Challenges & Handling Conflict

Working in a group & having to deal with different personalities & schedules, can at best be challenging, and at worst result in total fallout

tug of war

Managing Group Conflict

You aren’t all going to agree on everything all the time – that just isn’t how groups function, at some point there will be disagreements and possibly tensions, and the way in which this is expressed and resolved is of importance.

When conflict arises within the group or between group members try to:

  • Remain objective. This means focusing on the issue of disagreement and not on the person you are disagreeing with i.e. do not attack the person, their personality, their personal traits.
  • Remain calm and hear each other out. If the disagreement turns into a shouting match and free-for-all, call a “time out”, give everyone a few minutes to calm down and collect themselves, then re-open the discussion with the rule that each person will get a chance to speak.
  • Use “I” Statements. This requires you to take responsibility for your own feelings and will help you to improve your communication when you are feeling angry or upset. The purpose of using “I” Statements is that the focus is placed on what is causing the upset whilst minimizing blame e.g. instead of saying: “We are sick of you arriving late for meetings”, you’d say: “I feel frustrated when you arrive late for meetings because it leaves the group with less time to work” OR instead of saying: “You never respond to group e-mails”, you’d say: “I feel annoyed when you don’t respond to group e-mails because it makes it difficult to figure out whether or not you agree with the suggestions being made”. The format for an “I” Statement is: “I feel _______when you_______because_______.”

I Statements

Challenges & Possible Solutions

Some common challenges when working in a group include:

Uneven contribution:

One or more group members are not contributing to the group project or are perceived  as not contributing, resulting in increased group tension and possible conflict.

Possible Solutions –

  • Set up clear expectations and guidelines for the group from the very start.
  • Assign roles & responsibilities so as to ensure that everyone contributes equally to the end product.
  • Address the issue directly and respectfully with the person/s who is not pulling their weight.
  • Include a “Record of Contribution” from each member in your project – this is a report that identifies exactly what each person in the group contributed to the project. If two people report contributing the same thing, this will raise alarms bells for your marker, and the students may then be required to provide evidence supporting their claim.
  • Refer back to the posts on: Group Work – The Basics and Group Work – Getting Organised & Started 
Scheduling Problems:

This may result in work on the project starting late or not being able to continue, resulting in feelings of resentment and frustration.

 Possible Solution –

  • Consider using alternative ways of meeting or communicating, set up an e-mail group or What’s App group for example, and use that as a way of discussing important items and keeping the project moving forward.
  • Refer back to the post on: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started.
Different Expectations & Work Ethics:

Some members may be striving for a distinction whilst others are just interested in passing. Some may go the extra mile and get their work done ahead of schedule, others may procrastinate, leaving their contribution to the last minute. This may cause considerable group tension and resentment because it feels as if not everyone is committed to the project. 

Possible Solutions –

  • Keep work and project goals realistic and attainable.
  • Remember that your actions (or lack thereof) will impact on others in the group or the group as a whole.
  • Agree on a schedule upfront and revise it periodically to ensure that everyone is keeping pace.
  • Refer back to the post on: Group Work – Getting Organised & Started.
Getting Stuck:

Groups sometimes hit a wall and get “stuck” – this can result in procrastination and work avoidance.

Possible Solutions –

  • Re-read the assessment brief focusing on the expectations and goals of the assessment.
  • Call a brainstorming session so that you can generate and discuss ideas.
  • Use mind mapping to link common ideas and threads.
  • Set up a group-lecturer appointment to discuss the problem and get unstuck.
  • Refer back to the post on: Student-Lecturer Meetings.

References:

Effective Group Work. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/StudyResources/Seminars/sta-groupwork.aspx [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]

Therapist Aid. (2014). “I” Statements. Retrieved from: http://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/i-statements [Accessed on: 19 April 2016]

Weimer, M. (2014). 10 Recommendations for Improving Group Work. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/10-recommendations-improving-group-work/ [Accessed on: 04 September 2015]

Working Effectively in Groups. (n.d.). Retrieved from:  https://uwaterloo.ca/student-success/sites/ca.student-success/files/uploads/files/TipSheet_GroupWork_0.pdf [Accessed on: 07 July 2016]