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Relationships are Key to Conflict Management

Managing conflict within work teams has been top of mind for me lately as I work on developing a course for Early Years Leaders on this topic. My learning challenges me to reflect on the many situations I have encountered in my career where conflict was managed well but more often, not managed at all. We know that conflict is not only inevitable but also an opportunity for creative thinking and relationship building.

In high demand work environments such as Early Years programs, Educators have multiple calls on their time and energy. Assumptions, small irritations, and quick judgements can build up among team members. Just as a fire needs oxygen, conflict can be fed by assumptions, gossip, and negative beliefs. Add in a lunchtime venting session and you have a recipe for disaster. But there is hope.

We can make our workplaces more resilient if we reframe our thinking to focus on developing strong and compassionate relationships between educators. In my own experience, finding opportunities to learn more about my colleagues’ values, goals and even their sense of humour resulted in positive changes in my own attitude toward them. In my workshops, when multiple small groups of participants who have each analysed a case study from the perspective of different educators join together, it is always a transformative experience full of revelations and appreciation for the other person.

The concept of mutuality is one of the core principles of conflict management. CINERGY Conflict Coaching defines it as the process of building an understanding of both your own perspective and that of another. If you want to learn more, check out the CINERGY website Mutuality in Interpersonal Conflict (

This is especially relevant to Educator teams—if members of a team do not have a chance to get to know what their work partners value, it is easier for conflict to develop and even to go underground where it is sure to show up in other ways.

Relationships that support mutually beneficial outcomes can evolve naturally but more often they take time and focused effort. Outside supports such as training, conflict coaching and facilitated conversations are options when extra help is needed.

©Rockwood Consulting 2022

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