Clique Clunk

We place a high value on community and our ability to come together with diverse perspectives to achieve common goals.  There are natural affinities some have in communities because of similar experiences and/or viewpoints.  In a healthy community, there also is an appreciation and acceptance of diverse viewpoints.  This type of group energy can be a strong force for good and can provide a positive environment in which to thrive.  High-functioning groups have a positive approach to conflict with procedures for doing it well.

Other groups still need to develop better approaches to conflict.  For example, there are times when feelings and words lead to reactions and levels of upset that are less than positive.  Kern Beare (2010) said, “…disputes always arise from conflicting perspectives…different assumptions about, and ways of seeing, the world.”  In groups that do not have a common understating about how to have conflict, the road can be treacherous.  When disputes occur, there may even be those who seek others to help champion their perspective.  Cliques can form around various issues and even around conflict; it’s unfortunate that some groups don’t know how to function without the presence of conflict. This requires a paradigm shift with greater knowledge about conflict management.

The word “clique” often has negative connotations based on conditioning from youth.  It conjures up thoughts of possible behaviors such as starting rumors, disparaging remarks, marginalization, or discriminatory actions. These behaviors and others like them reduce the feeling of safety in a community, something that is crucial to functioning well.

Dr. Linda Black, a licensed, Mental Health Counselor, presented a two-day workshop in 2008 for the Teacher Education Unit entitled Guidelines for Managing Crucial Conversations where she went in-depth into the issue of creating safe environments for communication.  Her words of wisdom will resonate with those who attended the workshop and will provide insight for those who were not there.  Dr. Black brought deeper perspective to the concept of what damages the feeling of safety in a community.  She spoke about paying attention to whether people in groups or small groups of people were moving toward silence or violence.  The following helps re-frame these concepts:

  • See if others are moving toward silence or violence.
    • Silence
      • Purpose is to withhold information
      • Masking – understating, sarcasm, sugarcoating, sucking up
      • Avoiding – steering away from sensitive subjects, storytelling, diversions, inappropriate humor
      • Withdrawing – pulling out of a conversation by physically or emotionally exiting.
    • Violence
      • Controlling – forcing your views on others and into the pool of meaning, cutting others off, speaking in absolutes, changing the subject, directive questions, laborious storytelling.
      • Labeling—putting people or ideas under general stereotypes to dismiss them or distort their ideas
      • Attacking—belittling, threatening, bad mouthing, gossiping

Most have not thought of silence and violence in these ways or thought about their culminating negative effect on the feeling of safety in a community.  Dr. Black also emphasized the importance of not having “back hall conversations” that erode trust in the community.  When these behaviors occur, others don’t feel safe and the goals of the community are not reached.  Instead of moving forward smoothly, there is a perceptible “clunk” in the atmosphere of the community and in the movement toward goals.  The clunk occurs when any of the behaviors mentioned by Dr. Black are displayed or even when someone is a bystander to these behaviors.

Actions Dr. Black presented to encourage a safe environment:

  • We can talk about anything if we “stay in there”; emotional cut off is not the best approach.
  • Step back and explore mutual purpose.  Goals and mutual purpose need to be as clear as possible.
  • Get everyone around the table to have important conversations.  Build trust by respecting each other enough to not have back hall conversations.
  • Step out/pause when someone moves to silence or violence.  When safety is restored, go back to dialogue.  Ways of restoring safety include:
    • Check for understanding – When someone says something that results in a strong emotional reaction and threatens the safety of the group, pause and then explain how the words made you feel.  Then, ask the person if that is what s/he intended.
    • Pay attention to emotional bombs – Restoring safety requires everyone to pay attention to emotional bombs that get thrown into the group.  People need to be accountable for their words and the effect they have on the group.  Again, check for understanding.

One of the areas of need we have identified for our students is conflict management.  It is important to model positive collaborative approaches for working within a community of professionals.  We also must be explicit about helping our students develop these professional skills and dispositions.  Let’s do all we can to help each other and our students reach this goal.

Bonus:  “Disagreement is a gift. It’s an invitation to engage in the harder conversations that enable us to grow in understanding ourselves and each other.”  Rabbi Irwin Kula

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted in this blog:

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Share what is most important
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness, acceptance of perspectives
  • Embrace diversity of opinions

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

Beare, K. (2010)  Perspective, Perception & Response: Thoughts on Evolving a Global Mind. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from:

Black, L. (May, 2008). Guidelines for Managing Crucial Conversations. Presented at the Teacher Education Unit retreat.

Image (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2014 from:

Image (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2014 from: