Managing Conflict in Your Club Program by Monika Schloder, University of Calgary Swim Club (2013)


Published


Introduction

 

Sport sociologists propose that sport mirrors the values within a given society.  Based on that assumption, about 10% of issues and problems in our daily lives surface in various forms in the sporting scenario.  It is vital to identify the cause and make-up of each because these can easily turn into conflicts.  Management and resolution of the latter is a learning process and therefore becomes a valued ‘life time’ skill.

 

In closer analysis, conflict represents more than ‘just a disagreement’. As people sort their perceptions based on personal values, culture, gender, experience, etc., they may perceive conflict as a threat to their personal interests, status, role or power structure, and/or wellbeing (physical, emotional, or psychological).  Consequently, they tend to respond more on the basis of perceptions rather than on an objective or pragmatic viewpoint.  Differences in the position, opinion, and level of misunderstanding of the involved parties can exaggerate to a point whereby it becomes somewhat difficult to differentiate between ‘true and perceived’ disagreements.  Thus, conflicts can spread easily among others, not part of the actual conflict, who take sides based on their perception as well.  This makes the situation even more complex when trying to determine the real parties involved.  Managing and solving conflict is a process that requires inquiry into and then understanding the true source of disagreement.  It also calls for leadership skills such as cognition, respect, tolerance, humility, openness and willingness to learn, a collaborative approach to work across disciplines, and a relentless ‘drive’ to be the best practitioner one can be.

 

In our case, we focus on the relationship and interaction of coach to coach, coach to swimmer(s), coach to parent(s), and swimmer to swimmer.  Explaining the overall aim, short-term goals, and expectations of the organization/ club/coaching staff to swimmers and parents at the onset of the program or each season is at least one way to prevent immediate or potential conflict.

We have chosen to define conflict as ‘disagreement’ although it involves usually much more than that because it is perceived as a challenge to the opinions, beliefs, needs, interests, or concerns of one or several parties (see ‘Definitions’ section).

 

Sources of Conflicts

 

Conflicts materialize from one or more sources that are linked to the overall organization/club members/team/ swimmers, and/or parents.  They may relate to philosophical differences, various needs, interests, and emotional or psychological factors of those involved.  As a result, conflicts can escalate and become very complex.

 

  • The Organization/Club–
    • Coaching/club/team philosophy …
    • Selection of the coaching staff …
    • Gender equality or equity in the coaching role (female is coaching versus ‘serving as the house mom’ for the team) … assigned responsibilities …
    • Salary expectations and equity (gender) …
    • Work obligation … fulltime/half-time/volunteer …
    • Day to day operations …
    • Budget …
    • Sponsorships …

 

  • The Coaching Staff–
    • Coaching as a career choice (should he/she be a coach?) …
    • Coaching/club/team philosophy (congruency in application)…
    • Selection of support staff based on the established philosophy …
    • Salary expectations and equity (gender) …
    • Work obligation … fulltime/half-time/volunteer …
    • Expectations and role of swimmers and parents …
    • Training methods …
    • Safe training/competition environment (recent death in open water race) …
    • Selection of swimmers to teams (regional, national, international) …
    • Interpretation of rules … discipline, professional and ethical conduct …
    • Family responsibility – balancing career and family…
    • Social life (or lack of) … personal wellbeing (emotional, physical) …
    • Health – Illness …

 

  • The Swimmers–
    • Coach-swimmer communication and interaction …
    • Safe training/competition environment …
    • Motivational and challenging training versus boring workouts …
    • Swimmer-swimmer relationships …
  • Proper communication (using negative or derogatory language, cussing, etc.) …
    • ‘Fair play’ attitude toward teammates and other competitors …
    • Social life – balancing studies and school with training demands …
  • Playing school sports – coach objects to other involvements …
  • Swimming on the school or varsity team – seen as interference …
    • Health – medical issues (medication) …
    • Illness or injury – recovery time …
    • Physical and emotional wellbeing …
    • Perceived preference of other swimmers …
    • Perceived emotional, psychological, physical harassment …
    • Perceived or actual sexual harassment …

 

  • The Parents–
    • Coach-parent relationship and interaction …
    • Coach-parent communication – lack of information …
    • High performance expectations for the swimmer …
    • Perceived preferential treatment of other swimmers …
    • Perceived harassment or threat to the swimmer …

 

  • Organizational Factors–
    • Vague or unclear roles and responsibilities …
    • Philosophical difference of outcomes …
      • Organizational or club structure is too complex or elitist …
      • Neglect of recreational swimmers (they pay the bills but get reduced attention) …
      • Competing interests …
    • Disagreement on rules and regulations in regard to behavior, conduct, discipline, performance expectation …
    • Internal politics …
      • Individual personalities and influence on outcomes …
      • Lack of consensus on overall aim, short and long term goals …
      • Communication barriers or lack of information …

 

  • Emotional and/or Psychological Factors-
    • Incompatible coaching philosophy or coaching styles …
      • Autocratic coaching versus eclectic or athlete- (swimmer-) centered style …
    • Power struggle for control or recognition … personal ‘egos’ …
    • Personality conflicts …
    • Envy or jealousy …
    • Resentment …
    • Anger and frustration …
    • Perceived threats …
    • Stress or burn-out …

 

 

Definitions

 

It is important to define several operational terms in order to facilitate discussions and the process so that all involved parties agree upon the terms and language to be used.

 

  • Issue–
  • Point in question but not yet critical –
  • Matter that may be in dispute but is easily solved …

 

  • Problem– A problem usually involves doubt, uncertainty or difficulty if the issue at hand cannot be solved, and requires further discussion. The effort of defining a problem has to be balanced with the efforts of solving such problem.  It has been said that a well-defined problem is halfway to being solved and the perfectly defined problem may no longer be one at all!  In the end, the quality of solutions is in direct proportion to the quality of the description of the problem to be solved …

 

  • Management–
  • Taking charge or care of …
  • Bringing about or succeeding in accomplishing – sometimes despite difficulty or hardship …
  • Yielding …
  • Dominating or influencing…

 

  • Conflict–
  • Disagreement, quarrel, controversy, discord of action, feeling …
  • Opposite interests …
  • Opposing forces or antagonism between two or more parties or ideals …
  • Perceived threat to personal interests, needs, or concerns …

 

  • Managing Conflict–
  • Directing or conducting … taking charge or care of …
  • Directing the affairs or interests of …
  • Directing or controlling the use of …
  • Continuing to get along with … carry on with …
  • Succeeding in accomplishing or achieving, especially with difficulties …
  • Exerting or controlling …

 

Popular Beliefs about Conflict

 

People tend to hold beliefs or myths about conflict, namely that it is always negative or has to become a contest.  However, winning and losing are part of the competitive sport scenario whereas learning and cooperating are the goals for resolving conflicts.  Some believe that conflict cannot be controlled.  Therefore, self-awareness and control over your emotions and feelings is important.  Another idea centers upon the notion that one has to ‘fix’ the opinion of others to solve conflicts.  It is alluring to conclude that conflicts are going to disappear if others would just think or act differently.  You can only change yourself!  Subsequently, if you change others may think, act, respond differently, and the interaction and group dynamics can be altered.

 

  • Conflict is Negative–

Differences, competing interests, inequities, ‘irritating or galling’ behaviors are in themselves neither negative nor positive in nature.  The result(s) however can be negative or positive.  For example:

  • Someone tries to justify his/her actions or attempts to impose authority. This is perceived more as a concern for personal needs and less for of others or the ‘common good’ …
  • Someone engages in certain tactics to gain or maintain the ‘upper hand’ via coercion, threats, or deception …
  • The process is poorly managed. Interactions slow down, stall, and cause the conflict ‘to go underground’ and/or continue ‘on the sly’ resulting in loss of respect as others try to ‘get even’ …
  • Conflict is viewed as a ‘contest’ between ‘winners and losers,’ which results in severe long term consequences …
  • This does not mean, however, that you cannot be assertive because there is a difference between aggression and assertiveness
    • Deteriorating outcomes that affect coaching, training, internal club relationships, and detract from reaching established performance goals …

 

  • Conflict is Positive–

Conflict is positive when it occurs due to common goals versus individual needs, goals, interests, and personal value systems.  You can identify positive indicators, when:

  • The role of the coach is clearly identified, established, and accepted with respect by all involved …
  • Underlying values to coaching the team are clarified …
  • Expectations are congruent with set values and consistently applied (training or competition) …
  • All parties display an openness and willingness to seek positive solutions and respect suggested alternatives for common gain …
  • Renewed or strengthened commitment is apparent in training and competition (team/individual swimmers) …
  • The team/individual swimmers demonstrate an increased level of discipline and work ethic during training …
  • When conflict resolution is managed well and the outcomes are positive for all involved …

 

 

 

Difficult Personality Types and Behaviors

 

According to Cava (1999) conflict management involves numerous personality types with their own opinions, interests, and motives.  They exhibit various temperaments and behaviors.  As a result, it takes patience, tolerance, respect for others, and a high degree of interpersonal and leadership skills.  It is very advantageous to establish guidelines before discussions take place.  It demonstrates to others that you are really prepared to act professionally, and willing to accommodate everyone’s responses or actions.  The following behaviors can surface.  Here are some of the frequent behaviors:

 

  • Interrupting Behavior– It is a display of aggressive behavior to ‘sidetrack’ everyone from the issue or problem. This person engages in ‘temper tantrums’ or ‘loses it’.  He/she displays aggressive behavior to gain power, which can become abusive and abrasive.  It leads to a negative environment because others feel intimidated and assume they have to be more accommodating.  Subsequently, they tend to ‘walk on thin ice or eggshells’ to steer clear of such outbursts.

 

  • Intimidating Behavior– This behavior triggers serious consequences because it is very difficult to control. It is used as a personal attack to degrade the opinion of others rather than dealing with the issue or problem at hand.  It may also be an attempt to embarrass others or in the worst scenario is employed to threaten, coerce, or even hurt others.  You have to be aware that these people are fully capable to sabotage people or the ongoing process.

 

  • ‘Bullying’ Behavior– It is a very complex behavior. It relies on instilling fear, cruelty (verbal, emotional, psychological and potentially physical [shoving]) to establish control over others, especially those who appear to be ‘softer, weaker’ or more vulnerable.  Researchers point out that this behavior is actually a ‘cover up’ for low self-esteem and used in hope to appear more powerful and/or in control.

 

Dealing with various personalities, who display difficult behaviors requires significant skills (see ‘Introduction’).  It ‘makes sense’ to take advantage of available surveys or measuring instruments to establish your approach, and assess strengths and weaknesses (see ‘Appendix B’).

 

According to Cava (1999), several behaviors tend to emerge during conflict resolution:

  • Assertive behavior– It is the attempt to satisfy personal interests and needs.
  • Cooperative behavior– It is the attempt to satisfy the interests and needs of others.
  • Competing behavior– The ‘tough fighter’ personality displays an assertive and uncooperative behavior while pursuing personal concerns at the expense of others. This person is power- and control-oriented using whatever ways to win his/her position through the ability to argue, and battle for power, reward, or punish.  The behavior can be interpreted as ‘standing up for one’s rights’ or ‘defending one’s position’ because he/she believes in ‘being correct’.  Then again it may also be the person’s mind-set of simply ‘wanting to win’.
    • Accommodating behavior– The ‘friendly helper’ type is the complete opposite to the competing one. This person neglects personal interests and needs in order to satisfy the concerns of others.  He/she may be selfless in complying with others but actually prefers the opposite.  In this sense, he/she yields to the viewpoint of others.
    • Avoiding behavior– The ‘impersonal complier’ personality is the diplomatic ‘side stepper’ who tends to postpone conflicts or withdraws from any perceived threatening situation because he/she is not willing to deal with the conflict …
    • Collaborating behavior– The ‘problem solver’ type is assertive, and cooperative. This person works with others to seek solutions that satisfy personal and the need of others.  He/she displays the following behavior:
  • Tends to prod deep into problems in order to isolate the underlying interests and needs of all parties …
  • Tends to explore disagreements in order to gain more insight into the held opinions of others when trying to find creative solutions …
    • Compromising behavior– The so-called ‘settler of differences’ or ‘maneuvering conciliator’ personality is moderate in assertiveness and cooperativeness, and makes concessions. This person ‘gives up’ more but less than the accommodator type.  He/she addresses problems more directly than the avoider but does not explore them in as much depth as the collaborator.  He/she may ‘split’ the differences between the two positions when exchanging concessions, or seeking quick middle-ground solutions.

 

Suggestions to Manage ‘Difficult’ Behavior

 

It is best to be prepared, think ahead, and rehearse personal reactions to anticipated behavior by others.  This means that you have to know the group members very well to develop an effective action plan for your responses – If he/she acts like – I will respond with …Consider the following:

  • Explain the process and the expectations from the start, and do this repeatedly as a reminder for all involved …
  • Lay out the rules for acceptable behavior and interaction …
  • Let others explain their viewpoints and listen carefully, take notes, ask for clarification, and reiterate their statements in your words …
  • Let others know that you understand their concerns and viewpoints but insist on facts, details, examples, and potential solutions …
  • Record the interaction and process for later recall and mutual reference …
  • Remain in a positive ‘mind set’ and maintain your ‘cool’ attitude …
  • Let aggressive people ‘vent’ their frustration or anger before you respond (‘get it off their chest’) but let them know when their behavior is no longer acceptable …
  • If interrupted continuously state that you need to finish as well …
  • Address ‘bullying’ behavior immediately – not later in private …
  • Confront personal attacks and/or proof of sabotage directly to avoid any escalation of the conflict …
  • Suggest ways to control emotional outbursts or anger management if needed …
  • Remove yourself with the explanation that the process is no longer working if all fails …
  • Reschedule the discussion to a later time …

 

 

Keeping Balance in Conflict Negotiation

 

You have to be absolutely clear about your coaching philosophy, role, values, and goals in order to deal with the actions and responses by others.  Therefore, it is absolutely paramount to have examined your personal abilities, feelings, thoughts, motives, and reactions prior to any discussion because the situation might become very complex.  You need to understand your emotional and psychological ‘make-up’ (‘your psyche’), and scrutinize strength and weaknesses.  This helps you to maintain personal balance.

 

Self-knowledge permits greater involvement and helps you to resolve conflicts by balancing your needs and interests against those of others.  As stated in the introduction, ‘strive to be or become the best practitioner you can be!’ The following questions are helpful:

  • Do I know myself? …
    • Who am I as a person – as a coach? …
  • What knowledge and skills do I have? …
    • What do I need to learn – as a person – as a coach? …
  • What is important to me as a person – as a coach? …
  • What are my values? …

 

The pursuit of personal interests is appropriate at times but should not become a frequent tactic because others may perceive its overuse as intimidation and may lose interest in listening to your proposals.  It may lead to some people working ‘behind your back’ or sabotaging your efforts in retaliation.  Sometimes, you may feel tempted toback off’ from discussions.  This could destroy the very same you are trying to uphold!  You may even decide to ‘withdraw’ from the discussions altogether.  This may appear as the easy solution – sometimes even appropriate  – but it could be interpreted as ‘escaping’ and may not be in the best interest of the team or the swimmers.  Foremost, the other side is going to claim a victory as people deem it as a ‘contest between winners and losers!’ Any display of personal anger, frustration, and/or ‘losing it’ prevents logical thinking and acting.  It could lead to the same outlook held by others, namely … ‘I have to win because I hate to lose’ … or I try to ‘get even’ with them … or I have to prove my point and ‘drive it home’.  However, such reactions usually result in losing respect in the eyes of others, and it can subsequently affect your self-confidence.  You should definitely avoid becoming so frustrated that you start delivering ultimatums, quit, and then walk out.

 

 

Effective Language and Communication Skills

 

Effective language and communication skills are the ‘key’ to successful conflict management.  It includes articulation of sentences, excellent vocabulary (variety of words), avoidance of ‘stoppers’ like mmms, uhhhhs, ahhhs, frequent use of okay, you know, etc.  (they detract from the speaker), effective body language and listening skills.  You should:

  • Select a non-threatening environment for discussions and create a positive interaction scenario …
  • Properly ‘craft’ each problem statement …
    • This is not easy although some language constructs make it more effective. Therefore, become familiar with those verbal expressions …
      • Re-phrase the problem statement …
    • Use positive statements to identify the underlying intent or goals of the problem …
    • Frame the problem in the form of questions …
    • Make questions powerful and engaging …
      • In what ways might we? … Might you?  …
        • Avoid negative sentences as they slow down interaction or even derail the thought process …
        • Make use of a great number of solutions to establish the underlying facts, intentions, and goals …
        • Provide hints that there may be a multitude of solutions …
          • Which solution is best for all involved? …
          • What are consequences? …
        • Which solution entails the least amount of consequences? …

 

  • Making it engaging – It is a two-way process that requires understanding (observing) body language, use of effective language constructs, and listening skills.
    • Use assertive communication – speak effectively …
    • Use congruent body language (words match the body language); use eye contact …
    • Sharpen your listening skills – then rephrase the word … did I hear that? … Is that what you mean? …

 

  • Guidelines for Effective Speaking–
    • State the facts and observations …
      • Articulate your sentences …
      • State your opinion, beliefs, and feelings without interjecting derogatory vocabulary or bias …
    • Listen with interest …
    • Share your conclusions based on your experience …

 

  • Assertive Communication– The key to effective communication lies in demonstrating your assertiveness. However, this could be misunderstood or misinterpreted as aggressive behavior.  In the case of the former, it means asking appropriate questions in assertive ways, which is neither aggression nor intimidation to get ‘your way’.  Rather it is based on your philosophy of personal responsibility and awareness of the rights of others.  It does not imply that you employ tricks or techniques to manipulate others so your viewpoint or opinion wins out.
    • Characteristics of the Assertive Speaker– Personal beliefs, gestures, actions, and affirmative language as well as affective and congruent body language demonstrates your This signifies to others that:
  • You assume everyone is interested in resolving the conflict …
  • You have the right to state and explain your personal disposition, needs and interests …
  • You believe club administrators, coaching staff, swimmers, and parents share the same rights …
  • You are accustomed to be treated with respect …
  • You communicate and act with positive insistence (being assertive) in a consistent manner, which establishes that you feel worthy of the trust and respect of those involved …
  • You focus on the problem not on the personalities of others …
  • You are an expert in recognizing the way others feel and know the way they feel …
  • You permit adequate time to discuss and share the feelings and perspectives of others …
  • You encourage others to get engaged even if they feel frustrated, angry, or hostile …
  • You display a calm manner if upset, frustrated or angry with the situation on hand or the actions of others …

 

 

Effective Listening Skills

 

The ability to listen is one of the most important and fundamental communication skills.  Some have also called it an ‘art’.  It is said that effective listening is fifty percent of our daily communication.  This is NOT an easy task!  Someone said in jest … “We were given two ears but only one mouth because God knew that listening was twice as hard as talking.”  Interestingly, researchers point to the fact that coaches are the worst offenders of listening skills!  Effective listening facilitates answering questions and assists in discovering the underlying meanings of different viewpoints (see ‘Effective Listening’, Appendix A).  We can divide those skills into several stages:

  • Hear the words …
  • Focus on the message
  • Understand and interpret the message …
  • Analyze and evaluate the message …
  • Respond to the message …
  • Remember the message …

 

 

  • Five Levels of Listening– The importance of listening at a level that goes beyond ‘just hearing words’ is to “seek first to understand before being understood” (Covey, 1998, p. 124).  There are five levels of listening, according to the author:
    • Ignoring … not trying to listen! …
    • Pretending to listen! …
    • Selective listening – to only what is of personal interest! …
    • Attentive listening …
    • Use this level most of the time to understand the speaker and to compare what he/she says regarding Your viewpoint or concern …

 

  • Guidelines for Effective and Attentive Listening– Guidelines are worthwhile especially if you are trying to improve listening skills.  Here are some suggestions:
    • STOP whatever you are doing! …
    • LOOK! …
    • Make eye contact and face the other party squarely …
      • Look into the eyes and maintain contact or focus on the face …
      • Be aware however that constant eye contact may distract some speaker
      • You can look away…
    • LISTEN carefully to words and emotions combined! …
    • Show PATIENCE! …
      • Always allow the other party to finish, especially when emotions are involved …
    • Affirm that you are listening by acknowledging with responses such as mh, uh-uh, oh my, okay, I see …
    • Listen to the full thought and avoid interrupting …
    • Use non-verbal cues like nodding to indicate compassion, sympathy, or understanding …
    • Use body language that shows interest …
      • Lean toward the speaker and nod or shake your head to show that you are listening …
      • Your hand or arm placed on the shoulder of the speaker or another person signals understanding and reassurance …
    • RESPOND! …
    • Re-state or rephrase the speaker’s words to ensure all understand clearly …
    • QUESTION! …
      • Ask questions for more information and/or clarity …

 

 

Body Language

 

Body language is the outward reflection of a person’s emotional condition defined as gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which he/she manifests various physical, mental or emotional states, and communicates non-verbally with others.  People typically exhibit three types of behavior: touch, body position, and body movement.  These come in clusters of signals and/or postures/poses.  They happen at the same time and convey a person’s feelings very clearly.  You have to be aware and sensitive, however, that people from diverse cultures are likely to use body language in different ways, depending on their social norms.

 

Disagreement among experts puts the level of non-verbal communication as high as 80% while others propose 60-70%, although it could be around 50-65%, according to some researchers.  Regardless of these differences, ‘the way something is said’ inclusive of body language and eye contact is 13 times more important than the information given since body language can undermine the message or information.  In essence, words and gestures can say something totally different whereas body language is more reliable than facial expression.  Since verbal communication accounts between 7-10% to convey a message it is difficult to determine the truthfulness or sincerity of people by their words alone.  Therefore, body language and spoken word have to be congruent to be convincing when you speak.  Effective body language includes the following:

  • Physical expressions …
  • Body posture or posing … correct interpretation is essential …
  • Use of voice …
  • Signals of the eyes …
  • Three ‘states of looking’ …
  • Body language and space …
  • Unintentional gestures and body cues …
    • Gestures and interpretations …
      • ‘Seeing through’ the emotions of others …
      • Awareness of potential communication barriers …
      • ‘Open’ body language …
      • Positive body language …

 

 

Steps to Problem Solving

 

It is exceedingly beneficial to develop personal guidelines and sequential steps for successful discussions.  Consider the following:

 

  • Goals–
  • What is to be achieved? …
  • What should the outcome be? …

 

  • Methods– How things are done or should be done? … Disagreements may arise over the ‘how things are done or should be done.’  Swimmers may raise questions or doubts over the congruency of stated values and the application of the coaching philosophy toward training methods, taper period, rest, or recovery time.  Professional jealousy might surface if one coach enjoys a greater degree of favoritism or trust by the team or is more successful in the application of his/her training methods.

 

  • Values– Why things are done in a certain way? …
    Questions may emerge on ‘why things are done a certain way.’  For example, it may relate to expectations or behavior (conduct of coaches, swimmers, parents).  The rules of ‘curfew’ hours while at competition may be opposed (older swimmers may claim ‘they are mature enough and don’t need your rules’).  They violate them and are allowed to compete, which raises resistance as it is seen as preferential treatment by other teammates.  It also lowers the respect for the coaching staff and established rules.  It is a wise and ‘good’ decision therefore to involve everyone on the team to develop guidelines for conduct and consequences.  There is a lesser tendency to break the rules if the participants take part in the process.

 

  • Gathering Facts– Gathering and establishing facts in the given situation is a ‘must’ and it is enormously useful and productive, especially if the problem is or appears too vague. You cannot operate on assumptions or perceived notions.  The latter tend to vary because those involved may be misinformed or the correct information is lacking.  For example, practice time was changed.  Swimmers misunderstood, showed up late or not at all, which causes dissent and frustration.  Use questions such as:
    • What are the facts? …
  • What is the source of the conflict? …
    • What is the conflict about? …
  • What are the levels or components of the conflict? …
    • Who is involved? …
    • What are his/her/their interests and needs? …

 

  • ‘Chunking-up’– In most cases, each problem contains a small or smaller piece of a greater one. Therefore, you need to look at the problem from a more general perspective rather than too narrowly, especially if feeling overwhelmed with details.  Each problem can be explored laterally or vertically through ‘word play’.  Existing assumptions should be challenged to establish if the problem appears as a symptom of a ‘deeper’ one.  Question should be more general in nature like:
    • What’s this part of? …
    • Is this an example of? …
    • What’s the underlying intention? …

 

  • ‘Chunking-down’– It is suggested to decompose a complex problem (composed of many smaller ones) into a more specific one if it seems it is part of a greater one. Making it more specific is especially useful if the problem is overwhelming or daunting. One can substitute words that have a stricter meaning (more specific and defining) than the given ones.  Pose questions to the ‘other party’ such as:
    • What exactly is the problem or how do you perceive the problem? …
    • What are other parts of this problem as you see it? …
    • What are examples of this problem as you see it? …
    • What would you do in this situation or in my place? …
    • How would you solve our problem? …
    • What strategies would you recommend? …

 

  • Asking Questions– Asking many questions is constructive because more facts and various viewpoints, opinions, and interests become known. Potentially, a ‘hidden agenda’ may surface. It is a ‘smart’ choice to access the thesaurus to increase your vocabulary in preparation for the forthcoming discussion.  Words in the problem statement should be replaced with so-called ‘hypernyms’ (broader or more general terms) to get a more general understanding of the problem.  Re-word the problem several times or substitute single words with variations.

 

Start to think and question like a ‘philosopher!’ Avoid the usage of … ‘WHY’ do you – did you?  …  This type of questioning tends to produce defensive reactions.  Instead formulate questions like … you believe that BECAUSE?  … you stated that ‘BECAUSE’?  … Subsequently, the questioned party has to ‘think’ critically and analytically to provide his/her answer(s), which makes the process less ‘emotionally charged’.  Questions can be formulated like:

  • What do we know or not know? …
  • When did it last work correctly and successfully? …
  • How and why did it work? …
  • Can we use a diagram to identify the sources and the cause? …
  • Can we re-phrase the problem by ‘playing’ freely with the statement of the problem? e., using ‘rich’ vocabulary to vary the expressions.

 

  • Getting rid of bad Assumptions– It is essential to establish the boundaries of each problem right from the start. That means exposing and challenging assumptions because every problem – no matter if it appears simple – usually holds various supposition.  Many or at least some may be inaccurate making the problem statement inadequate, misguided, which increases complexity.  Several steps facilitate this process:
    • Create a list …
    • Expose as many assumptions as possible for greater clarity, especially those that appear to be obvious …
    • Use a type of ‘skepticism’ – a questioning attitude towards gathering facts, opinions, or beliefs stated as facts, or doubts regarding claims that are taken for granted …
    • Test each assumption for its validity …
    • Consider the consequences …

 

  • Reversing the Problem– If you happen to get ‘stuck’ with the problem ‘turn it on its head’ to uncover solutions to the original problem. This requires courage and creativity to reverse the thought process. An example of reversal is … if I want to succeed in … what would make me fail?  …

 

  • Finding Different Perspectives toward Creative Solutions– People often believe that they ‘have’ to choose between various opinions held by others. The most powerful solutions, however, are frequently entirely different than those advocated. However, inventing creative ones is not an easy or natural process.  Thus, it is critical to identify the sources of conflict through a sequential approach and establish guidelines.  You need to look at the problem from a variety of perspectives to gain instant insight or to discover potentially overlooked directions before ‘rushing’ to solve each problem.  One technique is to engage in ‘role-play’.  This helps to look at the problem from different perspectives and to discover similarities and differences among existing viewpoints.  It is imperative here that the process is explained, guidelines and time frame (time) are established, and everyone fully understands the rules and boundaries.  It is also critical to make sure that all parties feel comfortable in their assigned roles.  Reverse the roles as well to further broaden existing viewpoints.  For example, if the disagreement is between the coach and the swimmer both reverse their roles.  If three people are involved (coach-swimmer-parent) the situation is played out three times with role reversal.  Parties might ask each other the following questions:
    • What exactly is the problem or how do you perceive the problem? …
    • What would you do in this situation or in my place? …
    • How would you solve our problem? …
    • What strategies would you recommend? …
    • What are the consequences? …

 

  • Seeking Creative Options … Seeking creative options should generate many possible solutions that satisfy everyone’s needs. The key is to gather as much information as possible because the more is known the easier it is to find workable solutions.  You should look at the problems from a different angle and ask yourself ‘how would someone else solve the problem?’ Think of ideas first – then evaluate them immediately instead of evaluating as you move along.  Address the following:
    • Pursuit of mutual gains …
    • What does each party tend to gain or lose? …
    • How does this maximize everyone’s shared interests or needs? …
    • Test each idea against reality – strengths-weaknesses…
    • Expand each ideas and look at a longer time frame …
    • Look to ‘tie ideas together’ …
    • Is it possible to include several related problems in the solution? …
    • Examine whether the discussion group can deal with a smaller part of the problem in a different circumstance (situation, framework)? …
    • Consider whether low-priorities issues exist that can be given up? …
    • Look for ways to accept decisions …
    • What is the next step or Action Plan? …
    • What are the consequences of the resolution? …

 

 

Interfering Factors

 

You need to direct attention to people who like to ‘jump to conclusions’ over new ideas or the notion that everyone is seeking the ‘perfect’ answer.  Instead, encourage the view to expand existing ideas for greater possibilities rather than focusing only on immediate needs or trying to maintain the ‘status quo’.

 

 

Changing and Re-directing Conflict

 

As stated previously, there are times when it is best to reschedule a discussion that has ‘run its course’ and people need to re-examine personal assumptions, viewpoints, concerns, and perspectives.  Clear messages on personal feelings, interests, and needs have to be provided in the follow-up discussion.  You need to observe the communication skills of others and increase your listening skills.  It is best to remain silent or try to delay any response to avoid emotional reactions or potential outbursts by others.  You also need to observe body language, eye contact, and overall behavior of others.  You should avoid any negative wording, critical feedback, criticizing others, or giving advice, which could be perceived as presenting yourself as the ’know it all’ person.  If the process is delayed again or ‘stuck’ suggest if anyone knows another experienced person to assist in the process.

 

 

Prevention Strategies

 

Take a ‘reality check’ and establish whether you actually do possess the skills to manage conflict or if you need guidance or assistance?  If that is the case, try to find a person or people, who can help out or provide recommendations.  This not conceding personal incompetence rather it is your choice because you try to be the best practitioner you can be!  Some suggestions are:

  • Remain positive about the people and the process …
  • Recognize that conflict cannot be resolved unless all parties demonstrate the desire and the will to actively engage in the process …
  • Pay attention to your feelings –
    • Feeling weak in your position may create frustration …
    • An angry disposition may lead to or result in losing control …
    • Use mental imagery and stress controlling techniques to stay ‘cool’ to re-group your thoughts and actions …
  • Recognize that personalities may clash despite your personal effort …
  • Take steps to prevent negative affects on others …
    • Remain patient – the process may take longer than anticipated …
    • The problem may be solved but needs ‘re-visiting’ …
      Avoid the attitude that you have to ‘fix’ the opinion of others to solve the conflict …
    • If you change your approach others may think, act, respond differently and the interaction and group dynamics can be altered …
  • You can change the process through rescheduling the discussion to a later point in time so all parties can think about or work on more effective and productive strategies …

 

Your strategies become a sequence of actions: facilitation – arbitration – negotiation – mediation – and conciliation.  If conflict does occur, determine the source, and the levels/ layers.  Subsequently, decide on the course of action and ways for effective implementation without the least consequences.

 

  • Clarify your coaching philosophy and obtain commitment at the beginning of the season and re-visit before each competition. You share the information and expectations with coaches, assistant coaches, swimmers, team captains, team managers, and parents. The sooner they are aware of the expectations the less likely conflicts will arise.  Remember that compliance is generally higher when those who have to meet them are involved in the input (norms, rules, conduct, etc.).
    • Create stability and predictability …
  • Plan in advance because it creates predictability and stability for all involved because it allows them to focus on their specific tasks …
  • Create a positive environment and avoid last-minute arrangements (training, pool schedule times, competition location and information, transportation, lodging accommodations, etc.) …
  • Disruptions, last-minute decisions, changing of plans, and lack of organization usually lead to conflicts …
  • Disorganization creates unnecessary tension and may distract you and the swimmers throughout the year …

 

If you continuously model effective organizational planning swimmers will understand the importance of time management and develop personal habits to create predictability and stability in their preparation whether in training, at school, or in their daily life.  Explain and clarify norms for assistant coaches and swimmers (training/competition rules, conduct, discipline, etc.) and parents (conduct, seeking information, hours of access, parental support, etc.).

 

Facilitation – Negotiation – Arbitration – Mediation – Conciliation

 

 

 

Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships

 

Everything in your club scene evolves around performance accomplishments.  Whether you like it or not, it is nonetheless very important to concern yourself with managing people successfully although that may be ‘way down’ your list!  Therefore, get to know the staff, swimmers, and parents in order to offer the best teaching/coaching environment.  If you develop credibility, thrust, and respect from all involved you will be less vulnerable to avoid disorganization and unpleasant interruptions.  Some suggestions are:

  • Pursue good relationships with those who are important to the swimmers and the functioning of the team …
  • Develop the ’give and take’ approach in your interactions …
  • Establish a process for information sharing …
  • Establish networks (clubs/teams, administrators, event organizers) …
  • Establish a positive and pleasant environment …
    • Identify, control, or eliminate unpleasant factors for training and competition (water temperature, sounds, uncontrolled noise, smell, sights, etc.) …

 

 

 

 

References

 

 

Coaching Association of Canada (2008).  Canadian National Coaching Certification Program  (NCCP).  Coaching and leading effectively.  Version 1.3.  Reference material.  Ottawa, ON, CAN: Coaching Association of Canada.

 

Coaching Association of Canada (2008).  Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).  Managing Conflicts.  Version 0.3.  Reference material.  Ottawa, ON, CAN: Coaching Association of Canada.

 

Cava, R. (1999).  Dealing with difficult people.  Toronto, CAN: Key Porter.

 

Covey, S.R. (1998).  The 7 habits of highly effective people training manual.  Version 2.0.  Salt Lake City, UT: Franklin Covey.

 

Covey, S.R. (2005).  The 7 habits of highly effective people.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2007).  The leadership challenge (4th ed.).  San Francisco: Jossey -Bass.  Imprint of John Wiley & Sons.

 

Robert, M. (1982).  Managing conflict: From the inside out.  San Diego, CA: Pfeifer & Co.

 

Schloder, M.E. (2010).  Body language in coaching.  A tool for effective communication.  2010 ASCA World Clinic.  Indianapolis, IN.  August 31-September 5, 2010.

 

Schloder, M.E. (2012).  Body language in coaching.  A tool for effective communication.  ASCA Newsletter, 2012 Edition, Issue 03.  Fort Lauderdale, FL: ASCA.

 

Schloder, M.E. (2012).  Lecture notes, modified from Managing Conflicts.  Version 0.3.  Reference material.  Ottawa, ON, CAN: Coaching Association of Canada

 

 

 

Appendix A

 

Body Language and Listening Skills

 

The following are suggestions on effective communication skills (Schloder, 2010 ASCA World Clinic):

 

Body Language

Body language is the outward reflection of a person’s emotional condition defined as gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which he/she manifests various physical, mental or emotional states, and communicates non-verbally with others.  People typically exhibit three types of behavior: touch, body position, and body movement.  These come in clusters of signals and/or postures.  They happen at the same time and convey a person’s feelings very clearly.  You have to be aware and sensitive, however, that people from other cultures are likely to use body language in different ways, depending on their social norms.  Disagreement among experts puts the level of non-verbal communication as high as 80% while others propose 60-70%, although it could be around 50-65%, according to some researchers.  Regardless of these differences, ‘the way something is said’ inclusive of body language and eye contact is 13 times more important than the information given since body language can undermine the message or information.  In essence, words and gestures can say something totally different whereas body language is more reliable than facial expression.

 

  • Physical Expressions–
  • Kinesics – the study of body movement and expressions …
    • Physical expressions such as waving, pointing, touching and slouching are forms of non-verbal communication …
    • Gestures can emphasize a point or relay a message …
    • Posture can reveal boredom or great interest …
    • Touch can convey encouragement or caution …
    • Mirroring someone’s body language indicates that he/she is understood …

 

  • Body Posture or Posing– correct interpretation is essential …
  • Crossing the arms over the chest– is a basic and powerful body signal and erects an unconscious barrier between yourself and others (although they might be cold, usually clarified by rubbing) …
  • Looking at the speaker while crossing the arms– indicates the person is bothered but wants to talk …
  • Leaning away from the speaker– is an expression of opposition …
  • Correct posture or extended eye contact, standing upright or leaning toward the speaker while listening– shows interest …
  • Hand gesture at sides– is interpreted as a drop of energy while bringing the hand closer to the chest is understood as a sign of energy, excitement and motivation …
  • Walking up behind a person– is taken as alerting and intimidating, or assuming there is a problem …
  • Use of Voice–
    • High-pitched or shrill voice (common in females), flat or monotonous voice is difficult for the listener …
    • Most men in general battle to modulate their voice (change the tone, volume, frequency) while women usually need to pay special attention to resonance (quality, volume, pitch) as a lower voice quality has been found to be more effective …
    • Speaking clearly, exercising articulation, varying the pitch and pace, and inserting correct pauses ‘catch’ the listener’s interest …
  • Pacing while talking with repetitive gestures detracts…
  • Expressive gestures– emphasize the message or content but need to be neutral …
  • Harsh or blank facial expression– may denote outright hostility …
  • Touching one’s face during conversation– can denote deceit or an act of withholding information …
  • Tilting the head to one side or eyes looking straight ahead at the speaker but becoming slightly unfocused– indicates boredom …
    • On the other hand, a head tilt may point to a sore neck, or amblyopia (‘lazy eye’), and/or other ocular problems by the listener …
  • Tilting the head to one side and showing the ear means the person is actually listening …
    • People may start to mirror the speaker, causing the other person to tilt the head and listen more …
  • Tension in the face and scalp muscles– is evidence of emotional changes as are changes of skin tone and texture …

 

 

Signals of the Eyes

Eyes are said to be the ‘mirror of the soul’.  Learning to ‘read’ and interpret eye movement is crucial as these are powerful tools, very expressive, send many cues and signals, and detect tiny changes in the body language of others.

 

  • Consistent eye contact – indicates the person is thinking positively of what the speaker is saying …
    • It can also mean that the other person doesn’t trust the speaker enough to take his/her eyes off the speaker …
  • Direct eye contact but ‘fiddling’ with something– points toward interest or the fact that attention is somewhere else …
  • Lack of eye contact– can mean negativity …
    • However, people with anxiety are often unable to make eye contact without some personal discomfort …
    • Cultural difference may demand ‘lowering the eyes’ due to respect or humility or subservience …
  • Looking up to the left– indicates visual thinking and forming mental pictures …
  • Lowering the eyes– indicates modesty or submission …
    • This may relate more to a sign of respect for others or could convey a feeling of inferiority …
  • Narrowing the eyes deliberately– conveys anguish and distaste …
    • One has to be very aware of this as it may also be directed toward the person, who is the cause or source of that displayed feeling …
  • Attention wanders and the eyes stare away for an extended period– denotes the person is not convinced by the speaker’s words …
  • Unfocused eyes– the person’s mind is wandering
    • He/she is not paying attention …
    • It may be a sign of boredom …
    • He/she is not focused …
  • Averted gaze, touching the ear, or scratching the skin– shows disbelief …
  • Glistening eyes– signal strong emotion of either distress, short of crying, or excitement such as passion and triumph …
  • Glaring eyes– used to intimidate and can illicit hostile reactions or response …
  • Frequent blinking during conversation– denotes high interest and some use it to seek attention …
  • Excessive blinking– is a well-known display of someone lying.
    • However, recent evidence shows that the absence of blinking could also be a more reliable factor for lying than excessive blinking …
  • A wink with the closed eye directed at the person– implies a ‘shared’ secret …
  • Eye angle changes (even at a distance)– shows that attention is diverted away onto something …
  • Precise timing of eye contact– indicates interest, disinterest, or intimidation …
  • Eye pupil size changes– signals fluctuating emotions as interests peaks and/or wanes

 

 

‘Three States of Looking’represent the different states of being …

  • Looking from one eye to the other and then to the forehead is a sign of taking an authoritative position …
  • Moving from one eye to the other and then to the nose signals that the person is engaging in ‘level’ conversation with neither party holding superiority …
  • Looking from one eye to the other and then to the lips indicates a strong romantic feeling or flirting stage …

 

 

Body Language and Space

Research reveals ‘different zones of interpersonal space,’ which refers to the imaginary ‘psychological bubble’ when someone is standing or sitting too close.  Conflict discussions should take place in a quiet and separate room, with a table and chair arrangement that provides a comfortable setting for interaction.  The distance of chair arrangement is based with consideration of personal and social distance.

 

 

Unintentional Gestures and Body Cues

Since verbal communication accounts between 7-10% of the overall means to convey a message one can never determine the truthfulness or sincerity of people by their words alone (Haynes, 2009).  In fact, word transmission often does not reflect people’s thoughts or feelings.  Recently, new interest has centered on ‘unintentional cues’ such as …

  • Rubbing the eyes …
  • Resting the chin …
  • Touching the lips …
  • Nose etching …
  • Head scratching …
  • Finger locking …
  • Narrowing the eyes, ‘bulges’ in the cheeks and nose is interpreted as a cue of pain …

 

 

Gestures and Interpretations

Signs and body signals tend to vary by cultural era, gender, and among people from various ethnic/racial groups, who might interpret body language in different ways …

Hands on knees–…………………………………….. Readiness

Hands on hips–………………………………………… Impatience

Locking hands behind the back–……………. Self-control

Locked hands behind the head–……………. Self-confidence

Sitting with leg over chair with legs folded–        Indifference

Legs point in a particular direction– ………. Into direction of interest

Crossed arms–…………………………. Submissiveness or defensiveness

 

 

‘Seeing through’ the Emotions of Others– to determine ways:

  • To open the conversation …
  • To build or establish trust, build and increase rapport and support …
  • To detect the manner action-oriented or confident people act or move …
    • If people are actually thinking, interested, or bored …
    • If people are more open to agree …
    • If a person sends signals of authority or power, excitement, frustration, dismay, anger, nervousness, tension, or seeks reassurance …
    • If a person acts to convey pride …
    • If a person is keeping a secret, is suspicious, is a ‘liar,’ is going to sabotage others or the process …
  • To ‘read’ and counteract potential objections …
  • To make lasting impressions …

 

 

Guidelines to ‘Reading’ Body Language–

Each movement or gesture is a valuable key to specific emotions a person may be feeling or is displaying.  You should remember that body language is more honest than spoken words!  The key to ‘reading’ correct body language is the understanding of emotional condition while listening to what the person is saying, and the circumstances while saying it (i.e., understand the emotional condition and/or context) …

 

 

Rules for Accurate Interpretation–

  • Read gestures in clusters and in context! …
    • A whole cluster is far more reliable than an isolated gesture …
    • Look for congruence! …
      • Non-verbal signals have 5 times more impact than verbal ones …
    • When the two do not match, people tend to relay on the non-verbal and disregard the verbal …
      • Interpret gestures based on the circumstance, environment or climate (tightly crossed arms)! …

 

 

Awareness of Potential Communication Barriers–

Be aware of potential social communication barriers:

  • Gender, age, status and cultural norms influence body language …
  • Different cultures express body language in varied ways …
  • Some people may lack the knowledge to understand fully the discussion …
  • Some people may be too emotional to grasp the communication …
    • Emotions may interfere with the communication process …
  • Different perceptions exist …
  • Some people may have difficulty to express themselves clearly …
  • Some people may lack the motivation to listen …
  • Some people may not be willing to work through the process …

 

 

‘Open’ Body Language–

There are several key behaviors, which enhance the so-called ‘open’ body language, interpreted as an action that the other person is not ‘crossing,’ covering up, or hiding something which usually is expressed through body language.

 

 

Positive Body Language– Be like the ‘solar system’ – ‘stand out!’

  • Remove any existing barriers with an easy smile and portray a feeling of being comfortable! …
    • The other person is attracted more easily because the behavior denotes warmth, acceptance, and friendliness …
  • ‘Feel grounded!’ This builds up your posture …
    • Be aware of posture (head, shoulders, back, abdominals and buttock muscles)! …
    • Stand-tall with good posture, maintain eye contact at all times, keep the palms open and legs uncrossed, and turn the body toward the other party! …
  • Posture and emotions have to be congruent …
  • The voice is calm, firm, and in a measured tone, which denotes authority and confidence …
  • Look confident and exude a sense of self-esteem! …
  • Seek an opportunity to create a field of force and energy and be ‘present’ with the other people! …
  • Create an environment of attraction rather than resentment! …

 

 

Listening with ‘Empathy’–

  • Listening with empathy involves “both the heart and mind to understand the speaker’s words, intent, and feelings” (Covey, 2007) …
  • Restate the speaker’s words in his/her words to show you are listening …
  • Begin to understand the underlying meaning of words by re-phrasing the speaker in your own words
  • To get the real message in the conversation, reflect the feelings you are hearing in your own words otherwise you won’t understand what is being communicated …

 

 

Guidelines to Listening with ‘Empathy’–

  • Check your defensive reactions …
    • If you feel yourself ‘getting defensive’ try to stay ‘curious’ by asking questions, or making non-judgmental comments, like ‘hmm’ …
  • Listen to the speaker instead of responding or defending your viewpoint …
    • If you don’t check his/her reaction, you will most likely ‘shut down’ any further real communication …
    • Avoid reacting strongly if the topic is emotional for the speaker …

 

 

Barriers to Listening–

Various distractions interfere with our ability to hear, listen to, and understand others.  Some distractions are identified as so-called barriers …

 

  • Environmental–
    • Noise – others talking nearby – public address system – announcements – music – traffic – cell phone rings – texting – iPods …
    • Meeting room temperature is too hot or cold …
    • Ailments such as headache – upset stomach – being hungry – tired – or getting chilled …
    • Table and chairs are uncomfortable or seating separates people …
    • Height is artificially created by setting or arranging chairs in a certain manner …

 

  • Physiological–
    • Our ability to think is 5 x faster than speaking
    • Creating a natural lapse to fill in the time with our thoughts instead of staying focused on the speaker …
    • ‘Jumping ahead’ with our thoughts …
    • Speech problems (stutter when nervous) …
    • Pronunciation, accent, errors or misuse of words …
    • Colds and/or ear infection …

 

  • Psychological– more difficult to identify …
    • Body language indicates his/her ideas have more merit …
  • Others may ‘shut down’ attempts to communicate if verbal and non-verbal body language indicates non-interest …
    • Body language shows that the person/people would prefer to be somewhere else …
    • People are not sure of the reason they are listening will be poorly motivated to do so! …
    • Fixating on criticism results in hearing very little else or hearing it through the ‘filter’ of being criticized (selective hearing) …
    • ‘Hot button’ words may trigger our reactions and we get ‘lost’ in the emotions to respond to those words …
    • We compound the barrier with assumptions made about others who use those words …

 

  • Social–
    • Gender, age, status and cultural norms influence body language …
    • Different cultures use and express body language in different ways …

 

  • Understanding Others to Avoid Interference or Sabotage…
    • Keep the focus on the people and the process …
    • Turning the conversation around to your viewpoint may interfere with the ongoing process …
    • Turning the focus on you by interjecting and/or trying to fit the opinion of others into your perspective makes it difficult to truly understand what is being said …
    • Giving advice (unless specifically asked) may be misinterpreted …
    • Judging others becomes a barrier to understand the perspective of others …
    • Deciding whether the viewpoint of others is right or wrong detracts from the ongoing process …

 

 

 

 

 

 

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