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15 Activities for Resolving Conflict and Building Trust

Knowing how to resolve conflict and build trust with others are two of the most important skills anyone can have. They’re important in the workplace, in your family life, and in other relationships, including romantic ones. If someone does not know how to build trust or resolve disagreements, it’s very difficult to make the kinds of strong, healthy connections that ensure productivity at work or deeper emotional bonds with loved ones. Thankfully, there are lots of activities you can practice – usually in groups – that sharpen the skills needed for conflict resolution and trust-building, such as active listening, empathy, understanding other perspectives, and more. Here are fifteen examples:

#1. Defining “bad” listening and “good” listening

This is an exercise that requires at least two people who can compare notes, but it’s also a good activity for larger groups. Have the group write down what they believe “bad” listening looks like. It will likely include things like fidgeting, interrupting, looking at your phone, looking around the room, rolling your eyes, and so on. Next, have the group write down what good listening looks like. Nodding, smiling, making eye contact, and making comments like “I see,” “Okay,” and “That makes sense” are all signs of active listening.

#2. The “Yes, but / Yes, and” activity

This improv activity teaches themes like building on ideas, collaborating, and problem-solving. It requires at least two people. If you have a larger group, divide everyone into pairs. Person #1 should present an idea. Person #2 should respond with “Yes, but” and challenge the idea. Person #1 should then respond with “Yes, but.” Go back and forth at least 2-4 times. For the second part of the activity, Person #1 should present a new idea and Person #2 should respond “Yes, and.” Instead of challenging the idea, they’re adding to it. Person #1 responds the same way. Go back and forth for 2-4 rounds. When the exercise is over, have everyone discuss the differences between “Yes, but / Yes, and,” including whether one resulted in better ideas and better conversation. Discuss the types of situations where “Yes, but” tends to be the default and how teams can include more “Yes, and.”

#3. Webcam Off/On

As described by Oscar Trimboli, this activity is used when people are meeting over video. It explores the differences in speaking/listening when people can or cannot see each other. It’s a paired exercise. For round 1, the webcam is turned off, so it’s audio-only. For five minutes, Person A explains what frustrates them when others don’t listen. Person B must be silent for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, they can only ask “What else?” or “Tell me more.” After five minutes, Person A and Person B switch roles. In Round 2, the webcam is turned on, so it’s both audio and video. Person A talks about what they struggle with when it comes to listening. Again, person B must be silent for 3 minutes and then only ask “What else?” or “Tell me more.” They switch roles after 5 minutes. In the last round, the webcam is turned off again. Person A talks about the differences they noticed in their listening when the webcam was on and off. After five minutes, Person B will get 5 minutes to share.

#4. Build-A-Shake

In this activity designed to help people communicate better, two people will start by creating a simple 2-step secret handshake. Each person then moves on to another partner. Both should teach their handshake to their new partner. Decide which handshake you want to build on, then add two new steps. As you move between pairs, continue adding steps. Ideally, you should have enough people so the handshake has six total steps. You’ll need a minimum of four people. As people learn the different handshakes, they need to exercise clear communication. active listening, patience, and collaboration. This activity is great for kids, but it works well for adults, too.

#5. Count Up

Sit or stand in a circle. The goal is to count to twenty, but you can only say one number at a time. If more than one person says a number at the same time, the game starts over. To make the game go faster, everyone can keep their eyes open. To make things harder, everyone should close their eyes. You can play this game with small or large groups. It teaches cooperation. If you play with your eyes open, it also teaches people to read each other’s body language.

#6. Tell a story

One of the easiest ways to test if someone is listening is to ask them questions. In this exercise, a facilitator should read a story and then immediately ask questions about it. They should not tell the listeners ahead of time that they’ll be quizzed. Questions can cover character names, where the story was set, and so on. Afterward, the facilitator should lead a discussion on whether note-taking would have helped and whether people would have listened more if they knew they would be quizzed.

#7. Be the Fog

This activity is designed to help people regulate their emotions when accepting criticism. The goal is to imagine yourself as fog, which absorbs criticism – even harsh or unfair criticism – instead of throwing it back. To practice, ask someone you trust very well to criticize you quickly – one criticism after another – and practice “absorbing” without responding in anger. This can be a challenging exercise, so it shouldn’t be done with a group that doesn’t know each other well. Ideally, it’s more of a private, self-reflective activity with just one other trusted person. Any boundaries about especially sensitive areas should be established beforehand. Knowing how to handle criticism calmly is an essential conflict resolution skill.

#8. Eye Contact

Pass out index cards and ask the group participants to spread out. They should imagine they’re in an art gallery or museum. In the first part of the activity, ask participants to wander around the room for one minute as if they were in a public space, not making eye contact. Participants should then write down their feelings on their index cards. In the second part, they should walk around for two minutes and try to make eye contact, but as soon as they make eye contact, they should break it quickly. Record any feelings.

In the last two-minute round, they should seek out eye contact again. As soon as they’ve made eye contact with someone, they should stand side together and not make eye contact with anyone else. Everyone should write down their feelings. In the discussion, people should talk about their feelings during each stage, including how close people felt when they made eye contact with someone, how it felt to break off eye contact quickly, and if it was easy to make eye contact. The goal of this exercise is to identify how important eye contact is for emotional connection.

#9. Arm Wrestling

Two people pair up and take the position of arm wrestling, but the leader should never call the activity “arm wrestling.” The pairs get one point each time the back of their partner’s hand touches the table. They get ten seconds. The most successful teams will figure out that the best way to get points is to go back and forth without resistance. This twist shows the importance of collaboration and teamwork. It’s important to not call the game “arm wrestling” because the point is that “winning” requires collaborating and communicating, not actually wrestling each other.

#10. Knot or No Knot

A facilitator coils a length of rope (with stripes or patterns on it) on the floor. The team is instructed to pick up the ends of the rope and pull. Will it end up in a knot or not? The team must vote and unanimously agree on the outcome. Making a decision will involve communicating, compromising, and working with different personality types. When the rope is pulled and the outcome is revealed, the group can discuss their reasoning and feelings.

#11. The Orange Negotiation

This negotiation activity divides a group into two teams. The facilitator takes on the role of the keeper of a rare orange, the last of its kind. Both teams need to buy the fruit, but they can only talk to the keeper and can only speak one at a time, so the two teams (at first) never interact with each other. At the beginning of the game, Team A is secretly told they need the orange rind for a certain reason, like inventing a new element. Team B, on the other hand, is told they need the pulp of the orange to cure a disease. During the negotiation, the teams may realize they should just talk to each other. They’ll find out they need different parts of the orange and can come to an agreement that benefits everyone.

#12. Divide the Loot

This exercise tests people’s generosity, trust, and collaboration. Each player gets an amount of fake money and is asked to put some into the group pot. You can’t tell how much you gave. Once the contributions are made, the total is announced. Without revealing who gave how much (or how much money each player has left), the team negotiates how to best divide the money.

#13. AITA

AITA (Am I The A**hole) is a subreddit where people describe conflicts and ask who is at fault. There are three possible judgments: YTA (yes, the a**hole), NTA (not the a**hole), and ESH (everyone sucks here). In a team-building activity, a leader can develop a scenario that could occur in the workplace and present it to the team. Everyone gets a chance to discuss it, give their own opinion, and talk through how the situation could have been handled better. It’s important to not use any real situations from your workplace and to choose stories carefully as scenarios that involve things like racism or homophobia can be triggering.

#14. Rotate Debates

Participants should be divided into two teams. A topic should be presented to them – like whether pineapple belongs on pizza – and each team is assigned a side. The teams will argue for 2-3 minutes at a time. When each team has made their case, they should switch, so they’re now arguing for the opposite view. This exercise teaches people how to see different perspectives and think critically.

#15. Obstacle course

This activity can be done indoors or outdoors. Build an obstacle course in an open space. Teams should hold onto a rope and be blindfolded. Together, they must navigate the course using good communication. This helps teams build trust with one another, learn to solve problems, communicate clearly, and collaborate.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.