Team Workshop

No Buts

Improve Conflict Behavior by working on listening skills
60-90 minutes
3-15 people
Remote & on-site


Often both parties are so determined to win an argument that they don’t listen to the other person and don’t consider the other’s arguments. Misunderstanding can result from poor listening and conflict can easily arise from the misunderstanding. The following exercise will focus on active listening and choosing your words carefully.

Team workshop instructions


  • Material: 
Sticky notes, Pen
  • Any document ([online]whiteboard) that is visible to all will do. Only facilitator needs to write.
  • Different (videocall-) rooms needed for breakout sessions.

Check-In (5 minutes)

  • Welcome the team and introduce the workshop

Overview: Groups of 2 discuss topics and are only allowed to react by directly picking up prior arguments of the other side and not allowed to use any negative conjunction words.

Goal: Improve active listening in discussions.

Step 1 (5 minutes)

  • Split the team up into groups of three and decide who is A and who is B for the purpose of this exercise. Each group will also have a 3rd person that will act as an independent referee.

Step 2 (20 minutes)

  • Choose a topic that is controversial in nature to later facilitate a discussion with two opposite standpoints. Divide the topics among the groups. If you have too many groups, you may give multiple teams the same topic.
  • Find words that will be forbidden to use during the discussion. Those should be words that could easily undermine or disrespect the other person’s opinion.

    You may also think about words to use instead and to connect the other person’s argument with your own. Make sure the words are visible for everyone.

Examples for controversial topics:

What’s better: Car vs. Train

Should domestic flights be allowed? Yes vs. No.

Should ride sharing offers replace public transport? Yes vs. No

Should repulsive photos on cigarette packaging be mandatory? Yes vs. No

Should yearly flu vaccines be mandatory? Yes vs. No

Should Zoos be disestablished? Yes vs. No

Suggestions for forbidden words:




I disagree


Suggestions for connecting words to use instead:

I see your point

Makes sense

What do you think about the perspective that…

Another aspect I’d like to add is

Remember to react to the other person’s argument instead of just presenting your own arguments one after the other. This encourages active listening.

Step 3 (´10 minutes/ group)

  • Each person has 10 minutes to prepare some arguments for the side that they will have to take in the discussion.
  • Person A will argue for the motion, person B will argue against it.

Step 4 (5 minutes)

  • Facilitate the first round of discussions only using the forbidden words. (This will help the team to gain better understanding of why we shouldn’t always use them and pay more attention during discussions.)
Depending on whether you are a small team or a big team, every group now has 5 minutes to have a discussion either by themselves or in front of the others and everybody acts as a referee.

Step 5 (10 minutes)

  • Reflect the first excercise condition as a team: How did that make you feel during the discussion? How did you feel after? How did you feel towards your partner?
  • Emphasize how the next excersice (not using the forbidden words) isn`t about restriction of words and that those words are always “bad” but rather overexaggerating to sensitize our word choice and therefore include better patterns in the future

Step 6 (10 minutes)

  • Now facilitate the first round of discussion not using the forbidden words with the same topic. Make sure everyone can see the forbidden words.


Prior argument: “I think zoos should still be allowed, because of the educational effect of seeing animals.”

Don’t react: “I disagree because you could also use Virtual Reality.”

Instead say: “I agree that zoos are extremely important for educational purposes and that seeing animals helps kids relate. Therefore I think Virtual Reality is a super technology to replace zoos in that aspect.”

Step 8 (15 minutes)

  • Reflect how you felt during the discussion: After all the discussions are done everyone has 5 minutes to write down

    How they felt during the discussion
    What they might have noticed
    Whether it was hard / easy to them and why
  • Everyone can now share their reflections about that experience with the whole team.
  • Write down aspects that come up on the whiteboard and cluster them if possible to end up with a bigger picture of the team’s experience.

Ending (10 minutes)

  • Summarize the results.
  • Emphasise how active listening as well as the use of certain words/ phrases are linked to feeling respect and valued and how therefore being aware and using these discussion skills can help prevent conflics.


“During this workshop we were able to experience how those discussion skills – active listening and awareness of choice of words impact a discussion. It might have been a realization how frequently we tend to use certain words without thinking about how they might feel or further impact the discussion. We can learn from this experience and try to actively implement those skills and techniques in the future.”

First Aid ⛑🩹

Didn’t go as expected? Check out the following tips.

  • People can’t think of any arguments

    Sometimes people just need a little input to think about new arguments. If they find it really challenging to find any, somebody else can give a little input to start with. If it is still too challenging, maybe choose another topic for this team.
  • Someone is really unhappy with their topic / the side they are supposed to take due to personal beliefs.

    Make sure they feel respected in their personal beliefs and either switch sides with the partner or change the topic for this team.
  • During the discussion they (unintentionally) break the rules and get frustrated

    Remind them that this is an excercise and that it is common to realize how frequently we use certain words during discussions. It is not necessarily about the quality of arguments but about practicing how we interact with each other during discussions with a difficult topic or conflict situation.
  • The discussion gets heated and looses focus

    Interrupt if necessary to remind them that this is not about the argument / topic itself but about how to react to the other’s arguments without being disrespectful or insensitive. Also point out that they had to take a side which does not necessarily have to reflect their personal opinion.

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