Author: Craig Freshley

Conflict resolution steps

Good Group Tips

In principle, most conflicts are based on misunderstandings. When we make the effort to truly understand the other’s perspective and when we have shared understanding of future expectations, conflict often goes away.

Practical Tip: When in conflict, do something about it. Either change your attitude about it so it is no longer a conflict for you or work directly with your adversary. You might try these steps:

1. Pause. Breathe. Step away. Do not immediately react with words or actions you might regret later.

2. Share stories. Tell how the conflict came to be, what it was like from your perspective, and what it is like now. Listen to the other person’s story, how it was for them, and how it is now. Try to understand how the other person’s experience could lead them to their way of thinking and acting.

3. Share feelings. How does the conflict make you feel? Figure this out and share it. No one can argue with your feelings. Try to understand how others feel.

4. Share underlying interests. Why is this so important to you? What is the need in you that resolving this conflict will satisfy? What are your underlying, long-term interests? Share your answers to these questions and listen to the answers of others.

5. What are you going to do about it? Speak for yourself: what are you going to do differently so that underlying interests are achieved? Listen to what others intend to do. You might want to write down intentions in the form of a written agreement or contract.

6. Do it. Things will not change if people do not actually do things differently. Take responsibility for acting out your new intentions as best you can.

– Craig Freshley 

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Objectives, agenda, ground rules

Good Group Tips

In principle, when we are meeting as a group to make decisions it helps if everyone knows what we expect to achieve (meeting objectives) and how we expect to achieve it (agenda and ground rules).

Naming the objectives up front minimizes chances for mismatched expectations. The objectives also provide an anchor if things start to go adrift.

Agendas also help people know what to expect. And when the group agrees to a specific agenda it serves as a mandate to move from one item to the next in a deliberate and honorable way.

Ground rules also help us be efficient. And they remind us to be respectful of each other. Ground rules are shared expectations about how we will interact.

All three — objectives, agenda, ground rules — combine to establish a safe structure within which creativity may flourish.

Practical Tip: At the start of every meeting review the meeting objectives, agenda, and ground rules, in that order, even if very briefly. It is helpful if group members agree to them (with revisions if necessary) and agree to implement them.

If it seems as if the group is straying from the agenda or if people are ignoring the ground rules, interrupt and point out the discrepancy. If wayward behavior persists, either ask for compliance or that the agenda or ground rules be changed to match the behavior.

When behavior gets out of sync with established expectations, safety fades, creativity suffers, and frustration results.

– Craig Freshley

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My part

Good Group Tips

In principle, there are at least two pieces to every puzzle, at least two parts to every solution. No solution to a problem is entirely in the hands of just one person.

For example, people at the back of a room might have a hard time hearing the speaker at the front. When this happens someone is apt to suggest to the speaker: “Speak up.” But another solution is in the hands of the listeners: “Move closer.”

If I have a problem with someone’s behavior, one solution is for them to change. Another solution is for me to change. I can change how I interact with them or I can change my attitude toward them.

When I assume my problem is entirely because of someone else, I am hiding an important part of the solution. When I deny my part, I am in the way of the group moving forward.

We can spend a lot of time and energy wishing our group was different, complaining about our group, questioning other group members about their ways. But there is only one question that leads to real change: “What am I going to do about it?”

Practical Tip: With every problem remember that there are multiple parts to the solution. Ask, “What’s my part?” If you want the problem solved, act in ways that will help solve the problem rather than talk about how others should solve it.

Be the change that you want for your group, for your world.

– Craig Freshley

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Agreements stand until changed

Good Group Tips

In principle, the same formality is required to change an agreement as to make an agreement. For instance, if an agreement is made in a group meeting and properly documented, no member of the group should assume that the agreement has changed or act in ways contrary to the agreement until the agreement is changed in a group meeting and properly documented.

Group agreements often get ignored over time and people come to think it is okay to behave contrary to what was agreed to. The problem with this is that expectations become unclear, especially for newcomers. People are navigating according to different maps—some written, some imagined—and many people are lost. There is inefficiency, frustration, and resentment.

Practical Tip: Make group agreements with a degree of formality and write them down (in meeting notes or otherwise). When it becomes apparent that people are behaving contrary to an agreement there are two choices: Point out how behavior is contrary to an agreement (people may simply not know) and, if contrary behavior continues, enforce the agreement by imposing consequences on violators. Or, formally change the agreement to be in line with behavior. Things change and sometimes agreements need to change, fine.

Ignoring, condoning, or practicing disagreeable behavior is not a choice; not if you are striving for harmony, productivity, and efficiency in your group.

– Craig Freshley

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Is it okay to shut someone down?

Is a facilitator ever justified in “shutting someone down”? Craig thinks the answer is yes, IF three conditions are met. Here he explains the conditions and how he handled this situation in a meeting.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, on a beautiful autumn day in Maine.

Is a facilitator ever justified in shutting someone down? I think yes, if three conditions are met.

One: if the facilitator has laid out the expectation that we are going to give everybody an opportunity to speak and try to make room for all voices. Number two: if the facilitator has given adequate warnings that the conversation is going to be ending soon and we’re going to change formats. And three: if there is somebody who’s dominating the conversation, taking up too much airtime.

I had such a situation recently in a meeting, a full group format. I was running around with the microphone, I had given the ground rules, I had explained that we were about to change formats and go to small group discussions and informal paired discussions, and I had a person who wanted to say more. I gave him his last word, and went to a couple others; he wanted to say more. I went back to him. I let him say what he wanted to say but then, you know, what he said triggered some other hands so I took some other hands, and what those people said triggered him and he wanted to say more. We were over time. And he was saying a lot. In fact he had given up on using the microphone and was just talking loudly to be heard – even without the microphone, even though I was trying to give other people a chance to talk.

In that situation I believe that I was justified in forcing the group to go to the small discussion format. And here’s why: because as facilitators, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that everybody has a voice. And when I have to shut somebody down, it’s not about shutting him or her down, it’s about making room for others to speak up.

Now, I feel sorry for that guy. My actions are not about him, not against him, and had nothing to do with what he said or who he was. I know that he had a lot of energy and passion around this issue but no matter how much energy and passion somebody has, that is not a justifiable reason for making it so others cannot express their energy and passion around an issue.

We need to try and make room for everybody’s passion and energy to be heard in the room, and sometimes that requires shutting someone down.

At least that’s how I see it. And I hope that how I see it, helps you make good group decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Mis-takes to high stakes

Good Group Tips

In principle, we all make mistakes. It is part of being human. Mistakes are often painful in the short term but useful in the long term. Mistakes teach us how to do things better, how to make better decisions.

It’s often unfair to judge a person just because they made a mistake. The better basis for judgment is how one handles one’s mistake.

We are most useful to our groups when we acknowledge our mistakes, try to make things right, and maintain self worth.

Practical Tip: Turn mistakes into opportunities to demonstrate your good character. Admit your mistake, apologize, try to fix it, take stock of lessons learned, and move on.

Do not let mistakes bring you down but rather make you strong. Do not judge against someone who makes an honest mistake and handles it with integrity.

Graduate from small mistakes to higher stakes.

– Craig Freshley

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Why 16-year-olds should vote

When making group decisions – including voting at the local and national levels – why not solicit input from the people to whom the future matters the most? From Washington, DC, Craig tells us about a group of students making the case for lowering the voting age.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody!

Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, in Washington DC in front of the National Portrait Gallery. I attended a conference here: the National Conference on Citizenship, and I heard a group of high school students make a pretty compelling case to lower the voting age to 16.

They said that if you lower the voting age it will make young people much more aware of national issues and national politics. It’ll help them be educated. Good habits start young, so why not start a voting habit when people are teenagers?

It would bring politicians into the high schools to help high school students understand national issues – and by the way, they would also become educated on local issues because they’d be voting for town councilors and school board members.

I also heard some polling data that, if given the vote, 16- to 18-year-olds would likely vote in much higher proportions then any other age cohort. Look, whether we’re talking democratic elections or for any kind of group, you can’t go wrong with soliciting and encouraging all of the input available – especially from those to whom the future matters most, especially from those who most want to participate.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.


Good Group Tips

In principle, leadership is not reserved for only a few and it need not come only from the person at the front of the room. Leadership can be learned and it can come from anywhere. Any member of a group may practice leadership and when leadership comes from many places, outstanding decisions get made and extraordinary things get done.

In a book called The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner report their survey findings about what the world’s best leaders do to get extraordinary things done—five fundamental leadership practices: challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way, and encourage the heart.

Practical Tip: Learn about leadership and practice it from wherever you are. It’s not about speaking the loudest or appearing the strongest or being in front. It’s about developing and sharing vision. It’s about being a good example, even in small ways. It’s about encouraging others, perhaps behind the scenes. It’s asking questions and trying new ways of doing things. It’s nurturing passion in others and in ourselves.

You don’t have to be a designated leader to practice leadership.

Go big or go home? Maybe not.

Strolling down a sidewalk in Ghent, Belgium, Craig offers an alternative to the philosophy of “Go Big or Go Home.” Sometimes that’s not what’s needed to make the biggest impact.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here.

I’m on vacation (in Ghent, Belgium!) but I’m always thinking about group dynamics and today I’m thinking about this phrase, “Go big or go home.” I think that’s a false choice. For one thing, when you “go big”, very rarely does a single large heroic act have a lasting impact. And if it does, it’s because hundreds of thousands of little things have been building up to that big thing. Usually, when you try to “go big,” nothing happens, and if you “go home,” nothing happens.

I think there’s a middle ground, and that is “do lots of little things, close to home.”

I’m talking about, you know, if you’re in a group you can raise your hand and make a comment, fill out an evaluation form, bring your own mugs to save on new materials, smile at people…make lots of little actions in the direction that you want big things to happen. Small victories build on each other and lead to big victories. Success breeds success. Sometimes we are overwhelmed and think that if we can’t do the big thing, we might as well do nothing. That usually results in nothing happening. But if we do a little thing, it’s a success, and another little thing then another little thing… Actually that’s how nature works: hundreds of thousands of millions of little things adding up to great things.

So rather than “go big or go home”, go out there and do lots of little things right around home.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening.

Okay to change your mind

Good Group Tips

In principle, leaders are often criticized for changing their minds on issues because it apparently indicates weakness, inconsistency, lack of commitment to a particular doctrine. It may indicate that one is subject to influence. Yet groups make their best decisions when every group member is subject to influence, when each one of us is open to hearing and acting on the wisdom of others and on new information.

Changing one’s mind for trivial or self-serving reasons may indicate weakness, but changing one’s mind in the face of new truths indicates growth and evolution.

Practical Tip: Know your values and morals but do not be so attached to them that they cause you to deny new truths. Be in touch with your beliefs but also open to new information and new beliefs. One of the most powerful and helpful things one can say in a meeting is, “Well, okay, I’ve changed my mind.”

The thing we can count on about our world is that it is always changing. To make good group decisions we need to be open to changing with it.

– Craig Freshley

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