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How to Deal with Group Conflict

Every group has “that one” person.

You know the one I’m talking about. It’s the person that gets on everyone else’s nerves. 

Group travel is an inherently social activity. And experienced group leaders know operating a successful trip can require a lot of interpersonal skills. When you put dozens of people together nonstop for several days, there is bound to be some friction.

Interpersonal problems can be the Achilles heel of group trips. But they don’t have to be. Here’s an overview of four of the difficult personalities you’re likely to encounter in your groups, as well as some tips on how to handle them.

1. The Talker

Some people just don’t know when to shut up. They talk over guides and tour directors and find a way to commandeer every conversation and steer the topic back to themselves. Over-talkers can drive the people around them crazy, but they don’t have to ruin a trip. Some people talk too much when they’re nervous or uncomfortable. They could be masking some travel or social anxieties. Try to put them at ease if you can. And in the moments when they get too chatty, intentionally steer the conversation toward other people and topics.

2. The Loner

The polar opposite of the Talker, the Loner has almost nothing to say to anyone. Sometimes they are so shy they make everyone else around them uncomfortable. But they may actually have more in common with over-talkers than you would think — the tendency to clam up and withdraw could be a result of stress, nerves or anxiety. So again, finding ways to put them at ease could help draw them out of their shells. You can also make intentional efforts to start conversations with them (even when it’s difficult) or invite other socially gifted members of your group to join you in making the quiet traveler feel welcome.

3. The Wanderer

Group trips work best when everyone is conscientious about the itinerary and shows up promptly when it’s time to go. So when someone consistently makes the group late, it can drive everyone crazy. Some people have inherent difficulty being on time, but others run late because they’re not clear about the itinerary or expectations. If someone in the group is consistently causing time problems, have a discreet conversation to emphasize the importance of timeliness, and make sure they know exactly when they’re expected to be places. You can also get ahead of the problem by making sure you are near them when it’s time to leave somewhere so you can gently prompt them toward the exit.

4. The Grouch

From time to time, you’ll have a traveler in your group who is simply a grouch. They’ll find something to complain about at every step during a trip, and they may be surly with their fellow travelers. The best way to prevent this is to make sure you set realistic expectations before a trip, then be sensitive and responsive to legitimate concerns as they come up on the road. If you’re kind, generous and compassionate when listening to their issues, they may change their tune. If they don’t, you’ll probably have to put up with their attitudes until the trip is over, then remove them from your customer list for the future.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.