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Making Peace: Negotiating Club Conflicts

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It's not about winning; it's about focusing on the goals of the club and determining the best and shortest path to reach them.

It may be insidious. A fellow Toastmaster yawns excessively during your presentations. Or it may be more noticeable: He actually walks out during your speeches.

While it's nice to think of your club as one big happy family, and you may be generally content, there will be some discord.

"Conflict happens," says Stewart Levine, author of The Book of Agreement: 10 Essential Elements for Getting the Results You Want. "The worst part of conflict is how much time it wastes. It can lead to a loss in productivity for all club members."

Club leaders need to know how to minimize conflicts, be it between them and members regarding their leadership directives, or between other Toastmasters. The trouble is, when faced with conflict, most leaders and members don't know what to do. If any action is taken, it's usually fight or flight.

"Conflict creates so much trouble because most people are stuck with the notion of winning or losing," says Levine. "Even the term negotiating becomes adversarial. People don't see that reaching an agreement actually represents building a bridge to the future. It's not about winning; it's about focusing on the goals of the club and determining the best and shortest path to reach them."

Conflict also stems from the fact that many of us haven't learned to create effective agreements, yet we live by agreements every day.

"Agreements run across our entire life," says Levine. "We have agreements with our children, significant others, bosses, co-workers and fellow Toastmasters. Sometimes those agreements are spoken and sometimes they are unspoken. Conflict is often due to an incomplete agreement."

Levine suggests avoiding conflict by periodically reviewing the club's overall purpose and making sure it pleases everyone. Using Toastmasters' governing documents, spell out the mission and vision of the club. What's the big picture? If members could wave a magic wand and achieve desired results, what would those results look like?

It's also important to identify specific roles for all Toastmasters and review the Toastmasters Promise, (see sidebar, previous page ensuring that everyone completely understands it.

The Power of the Positive

The most effective interpersonal tool we have to influence the behavior of others is positive reinforcement, says Aubrey C. Daniels, author of Other People's Habits: How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Bring out the Best in People Around You.

"Successfully using positive reinforcement improves morale, productivity and member performance," says Daniels. "People want to cooperate when they're asked to do so in a positive manner."

When faced with club conflict, Daniels says the secret is to change how members are relating to one another, and in order to do that, someone must pinpoint the problem.

"Each member should be very concrete about what it is another member is doing that bothers him or her," says Daniels. "The member should use specific descriptions of behaviors, including mannerisms. For instance, a member can say, 'Whenever I give a speech, he smirks and whispers to other members.'"

Next, the offended member should describe concrete alternative behaviors that would resolve the problem. For example, he or she may request that the other member refrain from talking to others during a speech.

The final step of the process is for the aggrieved member to acknowledge when the other member is using the new behaviors. Such positive reinforcement leads to continued progress, says Daniels.

The next time there's conflict between club members, review the club's purpose and the suggestions on the following page, to try to solve it.

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