Essential tips for handling staff disagreement in schools

Most disagreements are easily sorted out with an apology, but if unresolved it can lead to conflict and formal proceedings. This usually means that one or both parties end up feeling ignored, not taken seriously and unacknowledged.

One of the key principles for dealing with a conflict situation is to be aware of the difference between a reaction and a response. A reaction doesn’t really involve a lot of thought, whereas a response involves thought and choice about what you say and do. Here are tips:

  • In a moment of conflict, try to pause and take a breath. This way you can start to step out of your immediate reaction and move towards a considered response.
  • Pay attention to the tone of voice and body language of the other person. If the other person is ‘out of character’ there is probably a reason for this. Be calm and try to ask them a neutral question like “I’m not following what you mean, can say a bit more?”
  • Remember to keep in mind the things that you want from the situation and that usually means to be treated with respect
  • Try to find a release for any negative feeling, as this can free you to think more creatively.
  • Talk to someone you trust and pick this person carefully. You will both need to agree to keep things confidential
  • Remember that each of you will have your own perspectives and understandings of the situation. If you can, put yourself into the other person’s shoes it may help you gain some insight about what action you want to take.
  • Pay attention to power. It is easy to notice the power you don’t have in a situation, but what are you doing with the power you do have? What influence do you have?
  • Nip it in the bud. The earlier you take action the better, so be sure to make time to discuss things. Don’t wait for them to do something about it. Take action to change the situation.
  • Plan what you want to say, write it out if it helps. Relax, breathe deeply and then gather your courage.
  • Although you may be feeling a little nervous and unsure, don’t speak in anger when you approach the other person.
  • Go and see them. Don’t email or text or phone. Do it face-to-face wherever possible.
  • Be prepared to listen more than you talk
  • Separate the problem from the person and spend time analyzing the difficulty

Dealing with conflict often feels difficult and for many of us it is something we would rather avoid. It takes effort and is sometimes risky but a small stretch out of our comfort zone can sometimes stop a conflict escalating to truly damaging proportions.

Nigel has worked as an interpersonal mediator in communities and organisations since 1991

Need more advice? Visit the Teachers’ survival guide