Managing Conflict and Complaints
All playgroups are made up of people and no matter how well run, or how hard everyone works at making playgroup a success, there may be times when there is some conflict. Conflict at playgroup can arise as a result of disagreements amongst playgroup members. It can also occur because of disagreements with the playgroup committee or organisers. Some disagreements will resolve themselves and can be sorted quickly with minimum disruption to families or the playgroup. Others may require more thought and a process to work through the issues to help maintain a healthy and enjoyable environment for everyone.
Disagreements and conflict can impact on individuals’ sense of safety and well-being. How playgroups manage things when conflict arises is important and having an agreed and fair process can help everyone to move forward with limited disruption and upset. This section discusses some of the key issues associated with conflict and complaints at playgroup and provides some guidelines and strategies for resolving issues. Playgroup WA members can also contact us directly for advice and support.
Key elements in managing and resolving conflict
Conflict Management Process or Plan
Whether your playgroup is a small single session or a large, incorporated group with multiple sessions, or somewhere in between, having a clear understanding of how conflict will be managed is an important step in successfully managing conflict when it does arise. Individuals respond to conflict in different ways and according to different circumstances. Having an agreed plan or process provides clarity and consistency and helps everyone in managing the issue and any changes arising out of the process. Different playgroups will need different levels of planning and policy. Small single session groups can have an open group conversation about how they would like to deal with issues if they come up, while we encourage the larger committee run groups to have written policies where possible. Written policies and processes are particularly useful as a way of communicating where groups are too large to have open conversation amongst members. Incorporated playgroups will have information about handling complaints in their constitution. Your playgroup may find the following documents helpful in developing your process and/or or policy:
Clear communication is critical in both preventing conflict and managing conflicts that do arise. Many conflicts can be prevented by ensuring that people are clear about playgroup expectations. People will have a variety of views about many things including: parenting styles, supervision of children, activities, venues, managing money and helping out. These differences are inevitable and if people are not clear about any expectations in a playgroup, conflict can quickly arise. Clear and open communication is an important part of managing conflict and helping everyone to take ownership of the conflict resolution process.
Key considerations for resolving conflict
Objectivity - Sticking to the facts and staying away from personal opinion and likes/dislikes are fundamental principles of managing and minimising conflict. The first step is to establish agreed facts about what has or hasn’t happened and who was involved.
Confidentiality - Everyone at playgroup has a right to confidentiality. Personal information should not be shared without permission. If something needs to be shared within a group, at a meeting, or in any other process, it is important to ensure that you don’t identify individuals and that you protect people’s right to privacy and confidentiality. This also applies to discussions about children and is especially important when dealing with sensitive issues.
The Right to Feel Safe - All children and adults participating in playgroup have the right to feel physically and emotionally safe. This includes safety from negative comments, innuendo and subjective comments about participants. Comments about other playgroup participants have the potential to cause distress regardless of people’s intentions.
As with all problems, prevention is better than cure. There are a number of sections in this Playgroup WA Resource Kit that can help your playgroup maintain open communication and decision making so that conflict is kept to a minimum. The following sections include useful information for playgroups in their approach to communication which is the key to conflict prevention:
Playgroup WA has developed a flowchart that outline steps and processes you can follow in working through disagreements and conflict within your playgroup.
Managing formal complaints
For various reasons, sometimes issues are not able to be resolved easily and a formal complaint may be made to the playgroup about an issue. Having an agreed process and/or policy for dealing with formal complaints will help everyone to know what they need to do, any timeframes or specific requirements involved, and the process that your playgroup should follow in managing the complaint. These processes might differ depending on the size of your playgroup and the type of committee or organising structure in place. The following suggested complaint management processes for playgroups with both formal and informal management structures may be helpful:
If you would like more information to help your playgroup in developing a Conflict Management procedure or in resolving an issue you can contact Playgroup WA and speak to one of our Development Officers.