9. Avoid conflict escalation
Avoid conflict escalation: Take the pulse of the conversation

Summary: This resource is adapted from Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). It provides a tool to help you avoid conflict escalation and the buildup of resentment. This informational resource can be easily read individually. Introduction: As your sponsorship group and the newcomer family partner to set up ESL, search for employment, access resources etc., you might have to balance knowing much more about the options available to the individual or family and honouring the individual or family’s preferences. Balancing both in conversations can be challenging and lead to unintended conflict.

One way to prevent conflict from escalating is to routinely take the pulse of the conversation. Consider asking yourself the following question taken from Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2013): Does the conversation feel more like dancing or wrestling? Another way to ask is; “Does it feel like we’re on the same team, or on opposing teams?”

It might seem obvious or simple, but regularly checking in with and responding to the dynamics of the conversation can help prevent resentment from building up.

In dancing, ‘one moves with rather than against the person.” Wrestling is “a process of overpowering and pinning an adversary.” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p. 15).

Example signs:
When it feels like dancing, you might notice:
- You’re trying hard to understand the other person’s point of view
- You’re asking questions before making up your mind
- You’re being honest about your concerns and stake in the issue and are acknowledging their concerns and stake in the issue
- You’re agreeing with each other
- Your posture is relaxed; you feel at ease

When it feels like wrestling (or being on opposing teams), you might notice:
- You’ve stopped listening to what the other person is saying and are instead preparing your next response
- You’re making assumptions about what the other person wants
- You’re judging the other person or their decision
- You feel very tied to and are pushing for a specific outcome
- You’re unwilling to entertain a different opinion
- Your jaw is clenched, shoulders raised/ you’re physically bracing for an argument

Practice: To develop the practice of taking the pulse of the conversation, take time to notice how it feels when you’re “dancing” and how it feels when you’re “wrestling” when trying to make a decision in your group or outside of it. Once you’ve identified those cues that indicate that you’re dancing or wrestling, look for them when you’re having conversations with the individual/family about ESL, jobs, etc.

What to do if the conversation feels more like wrestling
1. Name it. Try to be honest and clear about your concerns. Mention what you’re noticing in the conversation and reinforce your desire to work together:
For example: “I’m starting to feel like I’m pushing you toward this specific ESL class that you might not be as certain about. I want to make sure that the classes we’re helping you enroll in are the ones you want to attend. English classes are really important, and they’re something I committed to help you access, but I also care about doing what works best for you.

2. Ask. Although it does not always yield accurate answers (because of the power differential), asking about the newcomer’s experience in the conversation can help. Using the example above, a simple question could be; “I’m worried I’m pushing you toward one class over another. Does it feel like that to you?”

3. Take a break. Just like in any challenging conversation, taking a break can reduce intensity and provide an opportunity to redirect the conversation’s focus.

4. Use other conflict management skills. Check out other trainings on engaging conflict productively, which are included in this section.

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