Conflict in a group setting is very challenging to deal with, not only as the leader of the group, but also for the conflicting members and those observing. I am usually very uncomfortable witnessing to or having to address conflict. I want to see people getting along and learning to work together, and conflict is stressful for me. While in my job I am having to learn about how to respond to or even participate in conflict, I always prefer to not ever have to experience any kind of conflict. In a group therapy setting, where people are usually running high emotionally anyways due to the very nature of needing to attend a therapy group, and come from varied walks of life, conflict is going to occur and we as leaders need to know how best to respond to that.
It could be so easy to just avoid or gloss over conflict in a group setting. However, Corey et al. (2014) reminds us that “a group cannot achieve a genuine level of safety if conflict is brewing and is not addressed” (p. 24). In order for all the members in the group to feel comfortable enough to be open and vulnerable with each other, the facilitator must respond immediately to any kind of conflict in the group, and then provide the opportunity and guidance for those who are conflicting to reach a point of peace. The facilitators must also be “alert to subtle conflict that may be brewing and teach members how to deal with one another” (Corey et al., 2014, p. 24). Another important piece to addressing conflict during the group meeting is the fact that “helping members come to terms with each other can also potentially be one of the most productive processes for solidifying the group and building group cohesion” (Jacobs et al., 2016, p 418). While perhaps experiencing and deciding how best to respond to group conflict may be difficult as a leader, it can be an important turning point for the trust and “groupiness” of the group. Hopefully observing others overcome conflict in the group would also be an example to others of how to respond to conflict, and how to cope with that experience. The work of the leader of a group is so vitally important, from the larger details of accomplishing the therapeutic goal of the group, but even down to helping members come together and respect each other’s opinions and experiences.
Corey, G., Corey, M., & Haynes, R. (2014). Groups in action: Evolution and challenges. Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning: Belmont, CA.
Jacobs, E., Schimmel, C., Masson, R., & Harvill, R. (2016). Group counseling: Strategies and skills. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.