The path to meaningful social change is seldom easy.
When we work in groups our personal frustrations with the situation we’re up against can manifest as dissatisfaction with the group itself. We can attempt to work through our feelings in indirect ways with the people we are working with. We can get confused about who is on our side, who is with us in the struggle, especially when they disagree with us or annoy us.
But our work is a collective project. We need to find ways to work together even when it feels messy and hard.
It can help to step back from the difficulties that show up in our groups and recognise the bigger picture as well as individual perspectives. Both the conflict in the broader society and our own inner conflict can turn up as conflict in our groups. It can help to:
- Recognise and understand the bigger systemic conflict we are in
- Work on ourselves so we’re in the best shape to work with others
- Develop skills for navigating conflict and fluctuations in morale in our groups
Some steps we can take
- Share analysis of the political situation and social movement dynamics – but try to hold that lightly rather than getting rigid and dogmatic.
- Get support with our feelings so we can be more aware of how we might spread them around in our group.
- Show kindness to the parts of ourselves that are struggling, impatient, frustrated, scared and urgent.
- Reach for human connection with others. Have social time, share aspects of our lives besides our activism, be real and vulnerable.
- When we are having miscommunication or other difficulties with someone move towards them not away. There are strong messages in our society to not invest in relationships, to cut our losses and move in. Some questions to consider:
- What do I value about this other person?
- What do I have to learn from them?
- What is it about our difficulties together that could actually be a source of growth and strength?
- Where possible build relationships one-to-one and in person rather than only in the group. Seek to listen and understand.
- If fractiousness is showing up in the group a lot, including confusion or strong feelings about the right way forward, it may be a sign that people need rest. We don’t do our best thinking when we are tired. We’re less emotionally resilient, so a badly expressed comment by a colleague can really set us off, when otherwise we might be able to shrug it off. Yes, the situation is urgent and demanding but that doesn’t change the fact that humans need rest to function well.
- Surviving the ups and downs of social movements Part 1 & Part 2 – The Movement Action Plan’s Stage 6 ‘Perception of failure’, a stage where many people experience demoralisation and burnout and groups can experience difficulty
- Hope and activist burnout – A framework for understanding the impact of set-backs on people and movements
- How to build a resilient culture of resistance in hard times – Tips by Daniel Hunter written after Trump’s election
- Stages of group development – Bruce Tuckman’s concept of Storming normalises conflict in groups
- The RAIN of Self Compassion – a guided meditation by Tara Brach
- There are not difficult people, just challenging encounters – A useful reframing by the late Glen Ochre, a skilled facilitator
- Numerous resources from the Pt’chang Collection in the Commons Library including Maintaining group morale and motivation and Principles of Co-operative Conflict Resolution