Conflict Management

Hockey is a game that brings out the passion in all of us, the key is to understand how to ensure that those emotions are used in a positive manner. When these emotions become negative and turn into conflict it is important to understand how to manage the situation. A starting point in the management is understanding conflict.

Conflict will occur: for all the good sport brings it can also be stressful - the pressure to perform, the challenges in learning, and even differences in personalities act as multipliers that can create conflict, now add in the additional factor of being a team environment and it becomes clear why conflict will inevitably occur.

Conflict is not always bad: if managed correctly conflict can have positive results such as providing clarity in roles, expectations or values, strengthening commitments, and providing new ways to look at and manage situations.

Conflict is not a contest: the attitude when facing conflict should not be focused on winners and losers but rather the focus must be on solving the issue in a mutually beneficial way.

Actively listen: This is the most important thing is dealing with conflict. Listening helps understand other’s points of view, it can help identify the concern, and sometimes it can diffuse the situation as someone just wants to be heard.

Be respectful: Being respectful means respecting the processes that are set in place to manage concerns as well as being respectful in how interactions occur. Nothing will cause conflict to spiral downwards faster than a lack of respect. 

Remove emotions: When emotions are involved conflict only escalates therefore it is important to ensure that when bringing awareness to an issue it is done free of emotion. Hockey Alberta recommends waiting 24 hours before concerns are brought forward to help assist in removing as much emotion as possible. Emotions can also manifest when discussing a concern, if this is starting to occur it is ok to pause the conversation and resume when the emotions have subsided.   

Be timely: The sooner a concern can be addressed the less likely conflict will become negative since it allows the opportunity for issues to be addressed when they are fresh in people’s minds. Handling issues in a timely manner also prevents increased frustration and emotion that occurs when problems seem to pile on.   

Focus on the concern not the people: focusing on the person only leads to an escalation of conflict and does not have any productive outcomes, the goal of conflict is to find a solution which only happens when the focus is on the concern.

When you listen:

Restate and rephrase what you hear: It is helpful during conflict to do everything you can to understand other people. Sometimes this is hard work because you strongly disagree with their perspective or point of view. Nevertheless, listen so you understand. Check with the other person that you can accurately explain what you hear. Don’t assume you know what someone is trying to say.

Think before you react: Silence can be a powerful communication tool. Sometimes it prompts the other person to continue; sometimes it helps make the point that you really are listening. If you experience a strong emotional response to what is being said, silence can help you stay centered and keep your cool.

Acknowledge that others may be right: This can help you avoid getting stuck in a circular argument. Don’t use this technique to manipulate the conversation. Look for aspects of others’ point of view that indeed might be right.

  • Avoid using your listening time to interpret why others feel or think the way they do or what is motivating their actions. Leave interpretation and analysis to psychiatrists and therapists. As a coach, you need to deal with others’ behaviors, actions, and feelings.
  • Pay attention to body language and voice tone that give you clues about the message someone is trying to communicate.
  • Acknowledge others’ feelings in a straightforward manner. “You seem frustrated by this delay in naming the team” or “I can see why you’re angry about the schedule”.
  • Pay attention to questions that are really statements. When someone says, “Don’t you agree that your actions will hurt the club’s reputation?”, he or she is making a statement, not asking a question. Don’t get suckered into answering the question. You can respond by stating that the question sounds more like a statement or ask if he or she is trying to tell you something, “It sounds as if you’re trying to tell me you think I hurt the club’s reputation. Is that so?”
When you speak:
  1. Talk about what is happening in the present. Avoid bringing up things that happened last week, last month, or last year.
  2. Focus on problematic actions and behaviours and describe them, don’t judge them. “You interrupted me when I was speaking” will allow the conversation to continue much more so than a statement such as, “You’re so rude it’s pathetic!”
  3. Speak for yourself. Describe the facts, how you feel about them, and how the actions affect you. You want to hear yourself saying, “I noticed you arrived later than curfew last night and I’m disappointed” not “You’ve really made me feel like a fool trusting you like that!”
  4. Avoid words that trigger a defensive reaction in others. Using phrases like “you always”, “you never”, and “you should” or generalizing behaviour to a group. For example, “it’s always like that with girls” or “all board members should” will likely cause the other person to stop listening to you and start defending himself or herself.
  5. Give others permission to say as little or as much as they want to. You can build trust by suggesting others tell you what they feel comfortable saying.
  6. Practice self-disclosure in a way that encourages the other person to respond in a similar fashion. Complete candor is not always appropriate. Use your judgement to decide what level of disclosure will help you move toward a collaborative solution to the conflict.
  7. Avoid giving advice. Whether you are trying to teach, preach, explain, or offer the benefit of your experience, it will not help resolve a conflict.
Guidelines for Speaking for Yourself:
  1. State what you’ve observed or heard in a straightforward way: (To the mother of a player) “You and Jamie left right after the game last night and Jamie missed the team’s evaluation of the game. Jamie told me tonight that it was because you are unhappy with his playing time.”
  2. State your opinion, beliefs, and feelings about the facts: “I think it’s important that everyone attends team meetings. It’s the time when players can bring up anything they’re unhappy about to the team and the team can find a way to solve the problem together.”
  3. Share what’s beneath your conclusions: “I’ve learned through experience that athletes are able to resolve their differences among themselves when given support and some skills. The team decided at the beginning of the season how they were going to practise and play. This has worked well since I’ve been coaching this team. I am disappointed you may see things differently.”
  4. Then ask how the other person sees it: “I’d like to hear what you’re thinking.” “I need to hear your point of view so we can figure out a win-win solution.” Note: Use ‘I’ language to help others understand that you are speaking from your point of view
  5. Don’t exaggerate.
  6. Stay away from saying something like “Parents always think they know better than their children” or “I’m the professional here”. Statements like this will guarantee a defensive or perhaps hostile reaction.

Even skilled communicators are challenged by particularly aggressive behaviour like bullying, intimidation, temper tantrums, or sabotage. Bullying relies on the use of fear, cruelty, and threats to control others, particularly those who appear weak or vulnerable. Bullying is often used as a cover for low self-esteem, although the hope is to fool others into believing the opposite is true. Someone who resorts to tantrums causes others to walk on eggshells because he or she argues about anything and everything. Temper tantrums are often used in tandem with abusive and abrasive behaviour in an attempt to show power. Other aggressive behaviors that may be used to gain power over you in conflict are interruptions and the use of personal attacks rather than dealing with issues. Intimidation involves trying to threaten, coerce, hurt, or embarrass others to get what one wants. Sabotage is another aggressive behaviour that can be difficult to deal with.

Here are some tips for communicating in difficult situations:

  1. Prepare yourself psychologically for your next encounter.
  2. Rehearse how you will respond the next time you encounter the difficult behaviours.
  3. Let aggressive people vent their anger before speaking.
  4. Let them know you understand their point of view by restating what they say.
  5. If a person interrupts, say “I wasn’t finished speaking.”
  6. Press for specific details, examples, and solutions.
  7. Let others know when their behavior is unacceptable.
  8. Explain your expectations early and frequently.
  9. If someone bullies you or attacks you in public, deal with him or her immediately. Don’t wait for a private moment as you would with less aggressive behaviour. Use facts to defend your point of view.
  10. Obtain proof of sabotage, and confront it directly.
  11. Put things in writing for your mutual reference.
  12. If appropriate, encourage the other person to find ways to manage his or her anger differently.
  13. Walk away and explain that the tactics won’t work on you anymore.