Navigating in-group conflicts

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This page was created to support activists with navigating in-group conflicts. Conflict has a bad rep, but what comes from conflict can be very insightful, and what comes from avoidance can be detrimental to group dynamics and effectiveness. This page is a work in progress that will be added to over time. The information included comes from existing organizer databases and resources by movement thinkers. Included are reflections on why it's important to engage in conflict, and suggestions for navigating it generatively.

Why Engage in Conflict?

“The question is not ‘how do we get rid of conflict?’ The question is ‘how do we approach it?’” -Rick Hanson

The following chapter presented by Prentis Hemphill, with support from the Black Lives Matter Healing Justice Working Group, describes their guiding principle around restorative justice, which “at its very core asks us to rethink conflict. It asks us to see conflict, not necessarily as the splinters that lead inevitably to division, but to think of conflict instead as a generative moment, an opportunity to learn something about each other and the systems that we’ve created together.” [1]

To make room for divergent thoughts/ideas

We aren’t always going to agree, and we shouldn’t. Engaging in conflict means inviting many perspectives to share. Woke scientist on instagram says “what if we understood that we don’t need people to think exactly like us and be exactly like us to be WITH us and build with us?”

To develop power with one another, rather than power over.

When power and responsibility are left on their own, conflict is more likely to arise because needs are neglected, people are pushed out etc. Reflecting on power dynamics and privilege as individuals in a group setting helps us to understand conflicts, avoid preventable consequences and encourage generative conflicts. 

To direct frustration at targets, not each other

For accountability, rather than punishment

As an opportunity for connection and generating

The root of conflict is often a desire for connection. We can use conflict to hear one another.

Avoiding conflict created more conflict

Avoidance is a common response to conflict. When this happens, we miss an opportunity to improve, and also give the conflict more space to grow and spread.

Creating brave spaces that navigate conflicts generatively

An invitation to Brave Space - Mickey ScottBey Jones [2]

Together we will create brave space 

Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” 

We exist in the real world 

We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds. 

In this space 

We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world. 

We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere, 

We call each other to more truth and love 

We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow. 

We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know. 

We will not be perfect. 

It will not always be what we wish it to be 


It will be our brave space together, 


We will work on it side by side. 

Care to reduce future harm: a transformative justice approach

What is transformative justice?

“Transformative justice describes a systems approach to identifying root causes of conflict and responding to these as a community – including developing various harm-reduction processes to interpersonal violence within communities at the grassroots level rather than relying on punishment, incarceration, or policing.” -Beyond Survival, edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (2020) [3]

Where does transformative justice (TJ) come from?

“TJ was created by and for many of these communities (e.g. Indigenous communities, Black communities, immigrant communities of color, poor and low-income communities, communities of color, people with disabilities, sex workers, queer and trans communities). It is important to remember that many of these people and communities have been practicing TJ in big and small ways for generations–trying to create safety and reduce harm within the dangerous conditions they were and are forced to live in. For example, undocumented immigrant women in domestic violence relationships, disabled people who are being abused by their caretakers and attendants, sex workers who experience sexual assault or abuse, or poor children and youth of color who are surviving child sexual abuse have long been devising ways to reduce harm, stay alive and create safety and healing outside of state systems, whether or not these practices have been explicitly named as “transformative justice.”

We can apply TJ principles to communicating, but it’s important to recognize the origins of TJ are more often than not more intense and challenging than the context of group dynamics where most of us will likely apply this knowledge. If you are dealing with serious harm within your group, see the following wiki page: Notes on accountability from Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement

Calling in vs calling out

When a member takes an action that does not reflect the values of the group or breaks the guidelines of group participation, groups may either a) avoid taking action altogether, b) call the person in, or c) call the person out. 

Calling out
  • Calling out is best used to draw attention to harmful behaviours and increase public pressure. [4]
  • “Call outs have a long history as a brilliant strategy for marginalized people to stand up to those with power. they have been a way to bring collective pressure to bear on corporations, institutions, and abusers on behalf of individuals or oppressed peoples who cannot stop the injustice and get accountability on their own, but within our movements today it has increasingly become a strategy to shame or humiliate people in the wake of misunderstandings, contradictions, conflicts and mistakes.” -We Will Not Cancel Us by Adrienne Maree Brown [5]
      • The first half of this quote mentions how call outs have a history as a powerful way to hold power accountable. The latter half discusses where call outs have gone wrong, in contributing to cancel culture when used against the wrong targets.

      • Call outs can be very powerful when used as they were originally intended, but can be harmful in the wrong context. I.e. when we yell ‘shame’ at police who swarm an abolish the police rally, that’s an example of calling out the systemic harm of policing. ‘Cancelling’ someone is not an appropriate use of a call-out.

      • Seethe following example of a rally in the US where calling out was used strategically. 

Calling in

  • Calling-in means reminding someone that the group has shared values and guidelines, supporting them in reflecting on the ways their behaviours may have led to unintended consequences or harms, and continuing to work with that person to make amends and change their behaviour. [6]
  • Calling in suggests the individual can hold themselves accountable, and others will be there to support the process of amends. This is a transformative approach, that emphasizes growth and support to prevent future harm. [7]
  • For example: if a group member uses they/them pronouns, and someone were to use the wrong pronoun, we don’t need to cancel that person. We don’t need to shame them for their mistake. We can simply call them in, reminding them of the correct pronouns and how their mistake may have caused unintentional harm. This gives the person the opportunity to thank the group or person for calling them in, apologize, correct themselves, and perhaps ask if there’s anything else they can do to make amends. 


Another example from Maisha Johnson for Transform Harm: “If my young cousin who’s just taken her first women’s studies class makes a problematic comment, I know calling her in with a conversation or passing her an article might be all the energy I need to expend. Waging a public campaign against her isn’t necessary. But if the problematic behavior is coming from a women’s empowerment organization with a big influence, a more public call-out may be more effective.”

  • Use call outs for: applying pressure to power
  • Use call ins for: group members and potential recruits

Conflict mapping tool [8]

We can dig deeper into the layers of conflict by exploring 3 key ideas:

  • Position: Our initial response, opinion or solution to the conflict (i.e. your stance)
  • Interests: what’s important to us in this particular situation, or our concerns or fears about the issue (i.e. your reasoning for your stance).
  • Needs: Beneath our interests; universal needs, or the needs that we all have, for example respect, belonging, to be understood etc. (I.e. underlying your reasoning).

Conflict mapping acts as a tool that helps people in conflict form a clearer picture of the issues that are underlying, by exploring these 3 layers. It’s more structured than an open discussion, and makes a conflict conversation easier to facilitate, especially in a group where people are struggling to speak to each other in a civil way. This tool could be facilitated by someone in your group, by a neutral friend or external facilitator. It can be used for conflicts between a few members, or by the whole group. [9]  

Steps to conflict mapping

1. Write the issue in the middle of a document (keep it neutral).

2. Add segments surrounding for each person involved in the conflict.

3. Have each person record their position, interests and needs.

4. Invite everyone to look at the map and consider others’ interests and needs that they hadn’t taken into account before. 

5. Discuss solutions that consider everyone’s key comments as a team.

Diagram by: Seeds for Change

Finding solutions to conflicts

There are 4-5 steps for brainstorming solutions to conflicts.

  1. If relevant, review the group’s mission, vision, agreements for working together etc. to orient members towards a collective solution and/or raise critical reflections about where wrongdoing happened.
  2. Discuss common points of each person’s position, interests and needs (or if there are none, express understanding)
  3. Define a compromise that considers everyone’s position, interests and needs.
  4. Check in that everyone can live with the solution.
  5. Create an agreement and define how you’ll hold accountability if relevant.

Moving through this process requires trust, and good decision-making processes. See our pages on decision making if needed:

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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