I have delivered conflict management training to various businesses and organisations across the world, from call centre staff to front line medical staff. Conflict management also forms an integral part of the mediation training I deliver and is an aspect of the course I find fascinating. Delegates are always quick to share stories of outlandish, irrational behaviour they’ve been faced with and if we dig deep we can all recall an occasion when we might have lost our own temper. The training allows us to analyse how we were feeling before, during and after the conflict. It doesn’t matter whether you are on the receiving end or the person getting angry, universally the findings are the same – no one in conflict feels good.
In February 2020 I was asked to deliver conflict management training to a small village primary school. I have to admit, I was more than a little surprised. There is something really unsettling about conflict in association with a primary school.
In order to adapt the training to meet the needs of the delegates I arranged to have a meeting with the principal who explained she thought her staff would benefit from some training to help them deal with daily conflicts with demanding parents who often have unrealistic expectations of the school as well as their own offspring!
The principal arranged her staff into two groups, support staff took the morning training session and teaching staff took the afternoon. The support staff told hair raising tales of parents and pupils showing a lack of respect for teaching assistants and office staff explained their feelings of rising anxiety in the face of verbal abuse from parents (often in front of children) and pick up and drop off times. Unbelievably, one member of staff said this was not the worst part of her day – the worst part is having to deliver notes to teaching staff telling them there’s been a complaint “The teachers all look at me with horror when they see me coming and I know I’m about to ruin someone’s day”.
Teachers explained parents’ increased us of social media results in fact being distorted and rumours travelling fast. “Competitive Parenting” is rife in the school with parents demanding their children be pushed beyond their limits and holding teachers accountable should they fail.
We did lots of work to identify the behaviour behind the conflict, taught staff how to manage their own emotions, whilst managing parents’ expectations and maintaining confidence in their own abilities.
All in all this was an enlightening experience for delegates and trainer alike! This training proved a real reminder that conflict can take many forms and can even appear in what should be the happiest of places.
The positive feed back from the primary school was overwhelming, with 98% of delegates saying they felt much more confident about managing conflict and the skills they had learned related directly to their work. Whilst this is always wonderful for a trainer to hear, for me the most rewarding part of the course came when all teaching staff were mortified to hear about the abuse suffered by support staff and resolved to support each other in the face of conflict – everyone will now offer a friendly greeting to the nice lady from the office when they see her coming down the corridor with a post it note in her hand…..