How To Deal With Conflict vs. Consensus In Meetings

Whenever there is conflict during a meeting, it is incumbent upon the meeting chair to resolve it in a fair, consistent, and appropriate manner in order for a proper result to be achieved.  The following strategies will offer you a variety of options which can be exercised to gain consensus in any situation.

  1. Identify Areas of Agreement

Those would be the ideas which all members can support.

2. Take a Straw Vote

Use straw vote technique to find out just how strongly the group is polarized on areas of disagreement.  This is a vote that is not binding and merely shows where people are.  It is easily conducted by a show of hands.

3. Hear from Each Member

Put a 30 second, 1-minute, or 2-minute time limit on each person so that everyone can have their say.  Encourage speakers not to repeat what has already been said, just say that they agree with the previous speakers.

4. Paraphrase What You Have Heard

Ask group members who are strongly opposed to each other’s position to paraphrase or summarize what they hear each other saying before disagreeing with the point.  This shows respect and may give others a chance to learn more about an opposing position or point.

5. Change Sides

Ask group members who are strongly opposed to each other’s position to take each other’s side of the argument for a few minutes.  Again, this shows respect and allows for a better understanding of where others may be coming from in their ideas.

6. Encourage Compromise

Ask members who are opposed to the majority view to state, “What it would take for me to be able to live with that decision.”

Consider how their concerns or suggestions could be incorporated into the outcome of the situation.

7. Conclusion

  • Agree that more information is needed before the decision can be made (only new information will be discussed next time).
  • Agree that members need to reflect on the issues and have one more round when they are feeling fresh.
  • Ask opposing members if they are ready to “live with” the decision and support it.
  • Use a majority vote to come to closure.

If you have contentious issues, allowing everyone an opportunity to have their say and respectfully listening to one another, will usually help to gain a consensus that all can abide by.  Be sure to time any discussion so the meeting does not go on and on, rather you control the discussion so that a proper and acceptable conclusion can be reached.  Just remember, you, the chair of the meeting much remain neutral and keep control of the process.


Sandy Chernoff
Sandy Chernoff
SANDY'S 30 years of didactic and clinical teaching in study clubs and continuing dental education, coupled with her almost 40 years of Dental Hygiene practice bring a wealth of experience to her interactive soft skills workshops. With her education background she easily customizes interactive sessions to suit the specific needs of her clients. Her energetic and humorous presentation style has entertained and informed audiences from Victoria to New York City. Sandy’s client list includes law firms, teaching institutions, volunteer and professional organizations and conferences, businesses, and individuals. Her newest project is turning her live workshops into e-learning programs using an LMS platform. Her teaching and education background have helped her to produce meaningful and somewhat interactive courses for the learners wanting the convenience of e-learning options. As the author of 5 Secrets to Effective Communication, Sandy has demonstrated her ability to demystify the complexities of communication so that the reader can learn better strategies and approaches which will greatly improve their communication skills and ultimately reduce conflict, resentment, disappointment, complaining, and confusion. As a result, the reader will be able to increase productivity, efficiency and creativity, improve all the relationships in their lives and ultimately enjoy a happier, healthier existence! Sandy blogs regularly on her two websites on the various soft skills topics that are featured in her workshops and e-learning programs.

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  1. Excellent points. I advocate that some form of consensus is made before the meeting completes — because if not, the same conflict will repeat itself, creating a high degree of frustration. The other issue is decision fatigue. The longer the conflict, the more likely people will be so mentally exhausted that they’ll just agree for the sake of agreeing — and this leads to bad decisions and terrible commitments.

    Conflict and consensus must be expedited to avoid frustration and fatigue so good decisions are made.

    • Hi Chris,
      Absolutely, I do concur. That is why a simple process should be put into place. Every meeting needs to have a timed agenda…..that is the job of the chair and I usually time it from when I want to end back to the beginning. Meetings are best when they are short because attendees can only focus for so long and then, you are right, poor decisions are made because people are too tired or bored to make good decisions. Thanks for your input!

    • With the nature of my work, you have to structure the decision making process so that milestones will be met. You do this through a series of meetings making sure the malcontents are not invited. Malcontents will derail the whole process.

      Last month I developed a course on how to do effective decision making in a very political and adversarial corporate environment. Lots and lots of planning is involved. Every time I develop a course I’m always surprised at the level of minutia involved in my discipline.

    • Absolutely, Chris, good for you…..shows how goal focused and organized you are! I am sure what you have developed will be of great use to those who do not have your skill set.