What to do about “conflictive” people?

In a recent workshop, “Excellent meetings at work,” this question came up: Is it valid not to invite someone because we believe s/he is conflictive or will create conflict?

The main reason to invite someone to a work meeting is that their contribution to the issue under discussion is important.

Question for the meeting organizers: Are we willing to listen and consider the “conflictive” people’s points of view?

If the honest reply is “no” then it is better not to invite them – and be prepared to explain the reason behind this decision. Besides, we should recognize that without their participation, the group might make wrong decisions due to not having considered the interests of these people. In addition, those decisions might spark resistance, rebelliousness, or attacks from the people who were excluded from the discussion.

Question for the organizers: Is it possible that “conflictive” people could have concerns that should be considered?

Following are a few examples of dealing with “conflictive” persons in work meetings. Each example includes a question with the intention of inviting the event organizers to reflect.

Example 1. The “conflictive” person always presents the same argument in each meeting, whether it is pertinent or not. S/he takes advantage of having an audience to express their beliefs. The conflict arises when the group gets tired of listening to the same “issue” time and again, especially when it seems to be irrelevant to the points under discussion.

Question for the organizers: Have you talked to that person apart from the meeting to find out what their intention is by repeating their message – that apparently has little or nothing to do with the purpose of the meeting – and to explain why you ask they do not?

Example 2. The group itself, and/or its leaders, are afraid of conflict and they do not know what to do when it arises. Instead of embracing different opinions and exploring them with curiosity, they tend to not allow those who bring up conflict to speak.

Question for the organizers: Have you got the tools to face conflicts calmly, confidently, and creatively?

The following five steps help cool down emotions and allow group members to listen to each other:

  1. Recognize there are opposing points of view.
  2. Remind the group what the issue under discussion is, and the expected outcome of the meeting (i.e., collecting ideas, prioritizing options, making a decision, etc.).
  3. Summarize the issues that are not controversial.
  4. Point out the issues yet to be resolved.
  5. Jointly find a process to work those issues out.

There are many options for dealing with point 5, but if you cannot come up with one at the moment, you can always ask the group for suggestions, saying, “So what should we do? What are the next steps to explore these different opinions?”