You hook up with strangers for a group travel adventure or find yourself with a group of friends, and friends of friends. You thought everyone was like-minded adventurers only to find yourself in an unanticipated quagmire of angry. It’s not an uncommon situation. Groups can break down quickly due to the vast differences in temperaments, tolerances, and expectations. Take a note from mediation leaders and use these techniques to resolve any travel conflict.
1. Talk directly.
Talk directly to the person or people with whom you have the problem. A direct discussion with someone with whom you’re in conflict is much more effective than rude behavior, snarky comments, passive-aggressive actions or complaining to others behind the person(s) back.
2. Find a time slot that works for both of you, or everyone involved.
Don’t try to do it when either of you or everyone else is pressed for time. Don’t start a discussion just as everyone has hit the trail or is trying to set up camp before rain or sunset. Plan for enough time to have a thorough discussion. When you’re with a group, find a quiet place away from the group where you can both be comfortable and undisturbed. If it’s a group discussion, wait until everyone is ready. When part of the group is resisting, ask them to just listen and put a ballpark time limit on it.
3. Just because you think it doesn’t mean you should say it.
Think about what you want to say ahead of time. Explain what you think the problem is and how it affects you.
4. No blaming, no bullying.
Antagonizing the person(s) you have conflict with only makes it harder for them to hear you and understand your concerns. Avoid blaming the other person for everything or starting the conversation with your opinion of how to solve it.
5. Choose information, not superiority.
Don’t fall into the trap of interpreting someone else’s motives: “You picked the wrong route because you’re too clueless to read a map, and you didn’t bring one like you were told to.” Instead, give information about your own feelings: “I let you be in charge of route finding because I thought you would hold up your end of the bargain, but you forgot your map and left it up to others. That makes me mad because it slows us down and creates anxiety.”
6. Get it all out on the table.
Once you have begun to address the conflict, get all of the issues and feelings out on the table. Don’t leave out the part that seems too “difficult” to discuss or too “insignificant” to be important. Maybe route finding is just the literal tip of the iceberg. Often the part of the iceberg that is underwater is the bigger problem. Maybe it’s actually their incessant talking or whining that is driving you crazy. Collaborative resolution works best if all issues are discussed, but make sure they’re valid complaints and not just dumping.
7. Use your ears and try to have a heart.
Give the other person a chance to complete their sentences while explaining their point of view. Try to listen and learn how the other person feels even if it’s tainted with angst or anger. You can’t control them. But you can control your response. Try to couch your complaints in non-judgmental terms.
8. Reinforce your ability to listen.
Even if you don’t agree with what is being said, listen. Then at the appropriate moment, you can diffuse much of the conflict by telling the other person that you hear what they’re saying and are glad that you are jointly discussing the conflict. Reinforcing the process will reinforce your own ability to listen. Don’t demean the other person if they shed tears. And if you get emotional and they turn negative, consider dropping the conversation for the time being. Offer to take it up at another time. You do not need to subject yourself to emotional abuse or bullying either.
9. Make the resolution work.
When you’ve reached a point in the discussion where everyone has had a chance to state their version of “the facts” start working on a solution. Two or more people cooperating are much more effective than one person telling another they’re wrong or need to change.
Be specific: “I will be happy to take over the route finding if you’ll agree to take on a different task like water filtering or brewing the morning coffee” is better than a vague “I will just carry my own map and go my own pace.” If, in the end, you’re so angry you can’t see a resolution, think about the outcome of the trip. Do you want to end it feeling pissed off? Being right isn’t always as empowering as you might think. Try to be peaceful and agree to disagree but still be helpful. You came on the trip together right? Make it work for the time being—minus passive aggressiveness, moodiness, blaming, or attitude. Work on that. Later you can walk away and never look back.
10. Follow through.
Make a plan to check in with each other at a specific future time on the trip to make sure that the agreement is still working…then follow through. If at the end of the trip, you realize you’ve made a bad mistake, weren’t careful enough when venting to your traveling partners or group, try at least to learn from it. Some of us are so enthusiastic about getting out on the trail or road—especially if inadvisable to do such a trip alone—we tend to jump in and go all out enthusiastic without much thought to compatibility. Or sometimes, we’re just too optimistic.
One of the most difficult things about going on group trips is getting stuck with people we would never otherwise have a relationship. Try to focus on the shared interest and activity, rather than all the things that make us different.