Kaleigh Cornelison, MSW
Engaging. Creative. Practical.


Thoughts, Tips & Tools

Exploring Conflict through Courage, Compassion, & Connection

I was recently asked to develop a training for a community health center. They originally said they wanted something on communication skills. However, when I spoke more in depth with my contact, she shared that what they really struggling with was blame, accountability, and conflict. These are common challenges that I've heard from so many organizations. To be honest, I initially struggled with how to even scratch the surface of this topic. In the end, I reached out to my facilitator community, re-read every Brené Brown book I could get my hands on, and came up with: Exploring Conflict through Courage, Compassion, and Connection. Here's a brief outline of the training I developed.  

Warm Up 

To get everyone talking, moving, and getting warmed up for the day's conversation, I first had them stand up, mingle around, and greet their colleagues until I said stop. Next, I asked them to turn to one other person to chat with about the first of the following four questions. We then repeated that process with the additional 3 questions. 

  1. Why did you first get into this work? 
  2. What motivates you to stay in this work? 
  3. What part of this work is the most important to you? 
  4. When do you feel the most supported by your colleagues? 


I started by asking participants: "When you think of conflict - what comes to mind?" I created a word web of all of their responses. (Not one of the words was positive.) I asked: 

  • Have any of you ever worked in a setting where there was zero conflict? (No one!) 
  • Is it possible for conflict to be positive, productive, and effective? (Of course!) 
  • We often think of conflict as this stressful, negative thing (which it can be) but if we approach conflict in the right way, it can be incredibly productive and an effective way to spark growth and learning. 


I had to give a quick shout-out to Brené Brown's work which was the inspiration for much of the content of this workshop. I shared: 

  • Through her work Brené discovered that some of the keys to having a successful, effective and happy life and workplace are courage, compassion, and connection. 
  • These are tools for working towards a more “wholehearted” workplace.
    • This means that we are able to let go of what’s holding us back to do the very best for our patients and our colleagues and to overall have a happier work environment where we can approach conflict and communication with courage, compassion, and connection. 


Courage, Compassion, & Connection

At this point I had participants form six groups by counting off by sixes (all the ones formed a group, all the twos formed a group, etc so that people who were already sitting together would be forced to sit with people they might not usually talk to). Groups 1 & 2 worked on courage, groups 3 & 4 worked on compassion, and groups 5 & 6 worked on connection.

They answered the following questions as a group: 

  1. How would you define this concept? 
  2. What is the benefit of practicing this concept? 
  3. What makes practicing this concept difficult? 


After the groups shared out what they discussed in their small groups, I made a few connections for them:

  • What do courage, compassion, and connection have in common? All of them require vulnerability (risk, uncertainty, allowing ourselves to be seen, asking for help).
  • Often when we think of the word “vulnerability” we think of weakness but vulnerability isn’t weakness – it’s true bravery.

I asked the group to reflect on these questions: 

  • Think about your interactions with your colleagues without courage, compassion, or connection. How does it feel? 
  • Think of a time when you had a colleague show courage, compassion, or connection towards you. Or a time when you practiced it yourself. How did that feel? 


At this point we got into the skills for how to strive for more vulnerability, and more courage, compassion, and connection. We covered three main techniques: 

We went through each technique, one by one, and everyone participated in role plays in order to practice and get more comfortable with each of the techniques. In a perfect world, we would have had a whole half a day to practice each set of skills but in the real world we had two hours so participants were able to get just a taste of each approach. 

shame & blame

We started wrapping up with a short video (again from Brené Brown) on how blame and shame have an inverse relarionship with accountability. 


take away 

Finally, we did a quick wrap up with some reflection questions: 

  • What's one thing you learned today?
  • What's one thing you will strive to practice moving forward?
  • What follow up do you need?

At this point it is up to the group to make the decision to enact these techniques, which requires buy-in from all levels of the organization, especially leadership. I've found that organizations are most successful in creating culture change when leadership buys into the change, models the change they want to see, and regularly reminds and holds the rest of the staff accountable. 

Has your organization struggled with similar issues? We've all been there. Contact me to chat about how we can work together to bring your organization closer to courage, compassion, and connection. 

"Conflict" Word Web 

"Conflict" Word Web 

Follow Up Items 

Follow Up Items