Recently, I was facilitating a conversation with some twenty people from a loosely-knit community. A little bit into the programme, when we touched upon a value the group said they shared, I noticed one participant in the far end of the room looked away. While the other participants eagerly wanted to move on. I took a few minutes to test whether the value was really shared. After a few attempts, the group split in two over different perspectives. What everyone assumed was shared, actually divided the group. The temperature in the room went down. Some people looked away, uncomfortable. We had a conflict on our hands…
Anyone who has worked professionally with communities knows that there is always a chance of conflict. People may interpret the same value or purpose differently. They may fight over old insults or oppose individuals because of their behaviour. Some communities are rife with conflict, while others hide it under a layer of politeness. Few cultural professionals are trained to deal with conflict—in any form. And we hardly talk about it.
I’ve worked with communities for almost two decades and encountered my fair share of conflict. At workshops and conferences, I notice, the interest in the topic is increasing. While (or: when) we are getting better at working with communities, we also face more conflict.
Conflict is inevitible
In communities, conflict is inevitable. No matter how strong the bonds in a community and the degree to which they share the same values, ideas, or purpose, communities are never homogeneous and thus home to different perspectives. This diversity is the strength of communities, and the reason why working with them is so enriching. The potential for and presence of conflict is what makes a community such a valuable concept.
That is not to say that conflict is fun. Typically, it is not. It hurts. It may hurt the individuals in the community, and if you’re facilitating a group in conflict, it may reflect on you. You need to be thick-skinned when dealing with a community in conflict.Continue Reading Read More »