Conflict Management Skills Needed in Youth Work

how-to-handle-conflictConflict management skills are essential skills for every youth worker. In our divided communities, country and world it seems that every issue is hotly contested. When a youth worker does not have the confidence, skills, and knowledge to handle conflict, burnout is imminent. It will also be impossible to successfully support youth in their development.

Conflict has existed since civilization began. People tend to and want others to pick sides. But whether it is due to the prevalence of social media or other factors, the nature or intensity of conflict appears to have intensified compared to years past.

Youth workers must be proficient in conflict management skills.

Our youth are coming of age where divisiveness and conflict appear to be a normal way of life. For example, it seems you can’t be pro police and pro black lives when talking about or addressing the social unrest in our country today. Youth find conflict online, in their homes, schools and on the streets where they live. It is pervasive and intense.

It’s important for you to recognize your conflict management style.

As youth workers, we need to be aware that the conflict management skills we rely on in our personal lives are often inadequate for dealing with conflict with and among the youth we work with.

The University of Notre Dame identifies five conflict management styles.

  • Avoiding the Conflict – By avoiding the conflict, you essentially pretend that it never happened or doesn’t exist.
  • Giving In – Basically, you agree to accommodate the other party by acknowledging and accepting the other person’s point of view or suggestion.
  • Standing Your Ground – With this approach, you are essentially competing with the other party; you’ll do anything to ensure that you win the battle.
  • Compromising – You agree to negotiate on the larger points and let go of the smaller points; this style expedites the resolution process.
  • Collaborating – This occurs when you listen to the other party’s side, discuss areas of agreement and goals, and ensure that all parties understand each other.

You also need to be aware of the limits of your front-line role and what you can do in a conflict situation. Check out this article on Reasonable Use of Force – What You Can and Cannot Do. The conflict resolution model in the middle of the article may be particularly helpful to you, but please remember these same rules may not apply to your specific youth work role. It’s always important to understand the policies of your organization and reach out to your supervisor is something is unclear.

Every youth worker needs to be committed to improving their conflict management skills given today’s current climate.

We all can improve our conflict management skills. There are numerous ways to do that:

Many youth workers enter the field to help provide a positive future for our youth. As a group, we tend to find harmony in our lives and hope to instill that in our work. If you are not proficient in handling conflict, it is up to you to develop your skills, knowledge, and confidence in conflict management. Our youth are counting on your proficiency.


Paul Meunier is the Executive Director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA).