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Anticipating Conflict and Forming Group Guidelines

Submitted By Shannon Wheatley Hartman

This activity empowers group members to anticipate potential conflict in group discussions and create guidelines that will address these concerns and bring out the best characteristics of the group.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 1 votes, rating(s)
Person holding a compass

Learning Goals

  • Anticipate group dynamics with a specific focus on potential group conflict.

  • Work together as a group to establish guiding principles.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Organize the participants into pairs or small groups (5-6 ppl).

If the group completed Activity 1.1 What is Collaborative Learning?, then use the lists of positive and negative attributes as a starting point for this activity.

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Generate Lists of Positive & Negative Attributes (10 min)

Invite participants to think back to a time when they were working with others on a project. In pairs or small groups, ask them to generate a written list of both positive and negative traits that they associate with collaboration. Do not debate or discuss the validity of contributions. Generate broad lists. Prompts:

  • What made the collaboration work well? Ex: clear communication, shared goals, feelings of inclusion or trust.

  • What made the collaboration challenging? Ex: dominating personalities, power dynamics, no follow through of tasks.

Step Two: Prioritize Attributes (10 min)

In pairs or small groups, ask participants to discuss which of the negative attributes they are most concerned about. Prompt:

  • Which negative attributes are most likely to occur in our discussions or with our particular collaboration? Select the top three concerns or negative attributes.

When finished, repeat this process but focus on positive attributes. Again, ask participants to reflect on this particular group and decide which positive traits would be most helpful. Prompt:

  • Which positive attributes would benefit our discussions the most? Select the top three positive traits or attributes.

Step Three: Discuss as a Full Group (10 min)

Regroup as a whole and invite each small group to share their top three positive and negative attributes. Discuss:

  • Where do we see overlap or common themes?

  • As we review our consolidated lists, what might be missing?

  • What are the top five positive or negative traits for our group as a whole?

Step Four: Craft Guiding Principles (20 min)

Once the group has identified approximately their top five traits (positive or negative), create a space where they can craft sample guidelines that reflect these traits. This could be done on a white board or shared google document. For example:

  1. If the concern is “negativity,” then the guideline might be “Bring your positive attitude and energy. Have fun!”

  2. If the concern is “dominating personalities,” then the guideline might be “Make room for everyone to be heard. Listen to understand.”

  3. If the positive trait is trust, then the guideline might be “Respect our community. Critique ideas, not people.”

Step Five: Debrief as a Full Group (10 min)


  • How often should we revisit this list?

  • What should be our process if someone violates our stated principles?

  • When are guidelines limiting and/or unproductive?

  • How might we adjust in anticipation to these concerns?





Introduction to Collaborative Discussion

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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