Using Conflict to Your Advantage
How can education leaders take advantage of the conflict that
often accompanies change to garner even more support for their
efforts from those who are disgruntled? The Washington State
School Directors Association offers the following techniques for
resolving conflict and working with pressure groups:
- Meet conflict straight on
- Set goals
- Plan for frequent communications
- Be honest about concerns
- Agree to disagree - understand healthy disagreement
- Make better decisions
- Eliminate individual ego from management style
- Empower your team to create - people will support what
they help create
- Conduct discussion of differences in values
- Stress the importance of adhering to policy
- Communicate honestly - avoid playing "gotcha"
- Provide more data and information than is needed
- Develop a sound management system.
Pressure Groups: Turning Groans Into Grins
Pressure group tools are persuasion, pressure, protests,
politics and the press. Yours are anticipation, communication and
accommodation. Here's how each can work for you.
Anticipation: preparing ahead
- Review your school board policies to be certain they are
in place before you need them.
- Conduct formal or informal opinion polls of your staff
and community to determine feelings on various issues and
communicate the results.
- Give advance public notice on controversial agenda items.
When dealing with items that are likely to elicit a great
deal of community interest, it is best to set aside a
period for public comment before the board is expected to
- Solicit ideas from your community on a continuing basis.
If a pressure group represents a large portion of the
community, it may well have a significant effect on
policies or programs. If is has little support, or
- If its demands are detrimental for education, bringing to
light other opinions in the community will help to point
- Always try to work with people who have a complaint.
Pressure groups sometimes form as coalitions of people
who are unhappy about a variety of issues.
- Do a profile on your district to identify possible
- Analyze where the district has a "presence" and
where it does not.
- Send school board minutes and materials to organization
- Train your school board on how to handle confrontative
meetings and situations before they need it.
- Maintain an open door....and ear.
Communication: recognizing they won't go away
- Involve members of special interest groups on study and
planning committees. Research shows that negative people
do not sway the balance of a committee, but involvement
sometimes brings them to a more objective or positive
- Take care not to stimulate additional grievances by
appearing to be rigid, non-communicative, uninterested or
insensitive to the pressure group's goals.
- Try to remain emotionally unattached.
- Avoid getting into a public debate with pressure group
- Listen to what they have to say and use a reasoned,
factual style for your reply.
Accommodation: emphasizing the positive
- Sometimes it might seem impossible, but pressure groups
have the potential of becoming very important school
- Search for a common denominator. Try to reach agreement
on some things and exploit those areas of agreement. This
will help you keep lines of communication open.
- Stop thinking of these groups as totally adversarial.
Recognize that they are simply using the techniques they
know best to put their viewpoints and preferences across.
- Don't let communication be severed. Keep talking and
- Clear the air. Eliminate myths or incorrect assumptions.
- Be willing to give a little on minor points so you can
stand firm on the important ones.
- Make your decision, but continue to listen. Make
allowances for valid concerns and ideas missed in the
- Keep in touch with pressure group leaders. You might even
want to see if they would like to be on your Key