3-Step Process for Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution in the Belly Dance Community

by Anthea Kawakib Poole (This article originally appeared in Gilded Serpent magazine)

Dynamic relationships

Relationships within the dance community--whether with close friends, casual acquaintances, or dancers we've never actually met--can be either wellsprings of delight or wallows of frustration. Conflicts happen... People take sides....  Learning and growing get lost in the shuffle, particularly when conflicts overshadow the classroom. Even in the best of times, the teacher-student dynamic is also complicated by unconscious psychological projections by one or both sides. And of course then there are the usual ego or power struggles to contend with ...and the heat's ON!

A good "dynamic relationship" is PRO-active, not RE-active. That means taking positive, affirmative steps toward compassionate communication when conflicts arise instead of getting sucked into the energy-depleting whirlwind of acting/reacting or attacking/defending.

We can start becoming PRO-active by using the tensions within our own circle of friends and acquaintances to learn and practice conflict resolution skills. From there, we can take our newly acquired skills into the larger community.

Interpersonal relationships fascinate me, and leading a troupe taught me a lot about getting along with people.  I cherish the learning experiences I've had with various students and troupe members, even when these experiences were difficult at the time.

Troupe Members Who Cause Trouble

For example, not long after forming my troupe, conflicts arose between two members. I quickly realized we needed clear guidelines to resolve such issues before the negative aftereffects disrupted the efforts of the entire troupe. So I began to research group dynamics, conflict resolution and methods to recognize and deal with difficult people, and I formulated a policy to follow. 

The main point is to identify the primary goal; for instance, "To promote positive interaction and professionalism among group members.”  
To do this, everyone needs to practice graciousness and simple good manners at meetings:

These statements may sound like no-brainers, but hostility between two antagonistic people quickly leads to a remarkable lack of courtesy.  So the implementation of a policy of respectful behavior gives group members a clear understanding that rudeness will not be tolerated.

But even within an atmosphere of courtesy, misunderstandings and conflicts can still occur. In those instances, the following "3-Step Conflict Resolution" method can be applied:

  1. Speak to the person privately at a time when you are both ready and willing to listen to each other; try to work toward a resolution or compromise about the problem.  We hope most of our misunderstandings and conflicts will be resolved at this point, but if the problem continues, go to Step 2.
  2. Ask an impartial troupe/group member to be with you when you have another conversation with the person. This impartial member can serve either as a silent witness or as an active participant to help bridge the communication gap by confirming what each of you is asking or telling the other. You may even want to make notes of specific points as written verification of the decisions.
  3. If both parties are still experiencing conflict after Step 2, talk to the group leader and ask to be able to bring it up at an appropriate time during the meeting. This isn't to have everyone take sides or vote a "winner & loser"  in the issue, but to air grievances and come to a resolution.  If there's no resolution between the two people involved, the group leader can decide what's best for the group.

In a nutshell:

- Talk with the person privately.
- If the problem continues, bring another impartial member of the group into the discussion to witness or participate.
- If the problem remains unresolved, then it "goes public" at your group meeting.

In my own troupe, I used this simple method successfully for about two years before dissolving the troupe. This method has also had some limited success for other people in the troupe. Unfortunately, the members who inspired my creation of these guidelines were gone by the time I completed this project, and our relationships with them have completely dissolved.

For personal conflicts outside of a troupe, Step 3 of course isn't applicable.  For example, if two students have trouble getting along, the teacher shouldn't be expected to inconvenience the entire class while the two cohorts-in-conflict work things out.  The teacher can make this resolution process known to them and step back. 

If all else fails and two people can't resolve an issue at Step 2, they can at least "agree to disagree" and coexist peacefully.  If that fails too, they may need to distance themselves emotionally, mentally, or physically. 

Communication tips:

Keep your statements in the first person “I” to avoid making the other person feel defensive. Begin your discussion by saying "I feel...", "I need...", "I want...", or "That makes me think that..." instead of "Why don’t you…", Can’t you ever…”, or "You always..." etc.

Use of the second person "you" may sound like a personal attack. The immediate response to a statement that begins "You blah blah blah..." is defensiveness - a need to justify and explain "why" - and as a result nothing gets resolved.

Avoid falling into the trap of discussing the problem with everyone other than the person who has offended you. It is very tempting to talk about our problems with someone else, particularly someone who is inclined to favor our side and to reinforce our image of ourselves as "right".  But this type of interaction not only encourages gossip and rumors, it can reverberate over time in ways we never imagined, causing repercussions that eventually get out of hand. You do not have to be in the dance community long before you hear about ongoing feuds between dancers.

These Conflict Resolution Guidelines will help you to resolve issues and misunderstandings before they escalate into feuds. If you feel threatened or attacked by someone, use direct communication to get to the heart of the problem. I am not saying this is easy - it certainly is not.  But as dancers, we know that what may be difficult at first will get easier with practice - so give it a try!

For further information on compassionate communication see "Lessons in Loving", an e-book available at  Shalomplace.com (the author gets no compensations from sales of this material).