When conflict enters the home, workplace, or classroom, people can lose sight of their organization’s purpose and goals, or worse, experience vulnerability and distress. While conflict is inevitable, and in many ways a natural part of an organization’s growth, it must be managed with insight and care to lessen the impact of triggers.
Trauma-informed conflict management shifts from a model that asks, “What is wrong with you?” to one that asks, “What happened to you?” By focusing more on prevention than reaction, this strategy maximizes opportunities for future success.
Get to Know Your People
Managers, teachers, and family members can prevent much of the need for conflict management by getting to know the people they interact with. What settings make them most focused and comfortable? What situations trigger distress?
While direct conversation is the most straightforward method of gathering said information, this may not always be possible. Learn to observe the people you work and live with, taking note of when they thrive, and when they shut down with fear or frustration. For example, one student might feel particularly agitated when sitting by the distractions of a doorway while another might welcome the space. And while it’s important to foster respect among everyone in your community, that does not mean that people who butt heads should be required to work on intensive group projects.
In the same manner, helping people understand the expectations of your organization (including the classroom or family) gives them the opportunity to get things right. Make resources available, and empower them to know where to find help without fear of rejection or judgment.
Redirect Away from Conflict
Despite implementing the best prevention strategies, you will still see your share of situations that lead to conflict. Redirecting people away from those first seeds of conflict, however, can prevent distressing situations. Is tension building between your two children at the dinner table? Ask one of them to get up and change the music or fetch some condiments. Change the direction of the conversation to a topic they both can relate to and potentially move to the “same side.” Often just a small break in dynamics can reset the trajectory of the day.
De-escalate Distressing Situations
Triggers spring out of traumatic experiences, instantly transporting people to the strong emotions of “there and then” as they try to face a “here and now” situation. De-escalation strategies help a person become more present in the "here and now" so they can solve the problem at hand without reliving distress. By taking these actions, you can help them navigate a challenging situation while minimizing conflict:
- Notice signs of distress.
- Gently reach out and connect with the person.
- Redirect behavior by providing reasonable options for alternative activities away from the triggering situation.
- After the person is calm, discuss what happened, whether consequences are necessary, and how a proactive plan can lead to a better future outcome.
Conflict management not only makes your home, classroom, or workplace a more peaceful place to live and work, but fosters positive relationships by showing that you care. For more information about how to implement the right kind of care, visit our “Three Legs of the Stool” page.