Traffic Debrief

Type of Initiative:  Processing and Debriefing

Source:  Michelle Cummings

Published in:   Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings with Mike Anderson

Props Needed:  Items shaped like or resembling a stoplight, hard hat, traffic cone, police car, tire, or fire extinguisher. 

Group Size:  1–15 

Directions: One of our favorite processing tools to debrief conflict is the Traffic Debrief. Set these parts out in front of your group to set the stage for targeted metaphoric processing. Each part can be used independently or as a complete set.  Following are examples of processing questions and information that relate to each traffic metaphor.

Stoplight: This is one of our favorite metaphors to use to debrief a conflict.

A traffic light is used to help direct motorists while driving to keep them from crashing.  The lights signify things a driver should do to keep things flowing smoothly.  The three colors on the stoplight can be used as metaphors for behaviors: What are you doing well? (green light) What do you need to be careful of? (yellow light) What do you need to stop doing? (red light)

When a group has started to show negative behavior patterns or if a conflict arises, use the metaphor of the stoplight to debrief the situation.  Frontload your discussion with examples for each color.  You could also have the group give suggestions for each color.

  • RED:  What are things happening in the group that need to STOP in order for us to be more successful?
  • YELLOW:  What are things we need to be CAREFUL of as we continue?  Suggestions have been to keep everyone safe, listen to all ideas, be aware of personal choices and boundaries, etc.
  • GREEN:  What are things we want to GO for?  This could be group goals, as well as project suggestions.  Ideas include being respectful, encouraging more, setting time limits, etc.

Hard Hat: A hard hat is a type of helmet predominantly used in workplace environments, such as construction sites, to protect the head from injury by falling objects, debris, bad weather, and electric shock. Inside the helmet is a suspension that spreads the helmet's weight over the top of the head. It also provides a space of approximately 1 ½ inch between the helmet's shell and the wearer's head so that if an object strikes the shell, the impact is less likely to be transmitted directly to the skull.

Here are some specific debriefing questions for the hard hat:

  • What areas are you being hard headed in?
  • What do you need to protect yourself from?
  • Often, hard hats are worn in construction/dangerous areas. When do you put on your construction hat each day?
  • Describe an area of your life where you metaphorically put on a hard hat before you enter.  What types of feelings do you experience as you go there?
  • How would a hard hat be helpful/hurtful when dealing with conflict?   

Traffic Cone: Traffic cones are usually cone-shaped markers that are placed on roads or footpaths to temporarily redirect traffic in a safe manner. They are often used to create merge lanes during road construction projects or automobile accidents, though heavier, more permanent markers or signs are used if the diversion is to stay in place for a long period of time.

Here are some specific debriefing questions for the traffic cone:

  • What problems do we need to avoid?
  • What do we need to be careful of?
  • What behaviors should you avoid when confronting a colleague?
  • When you know there is a conflict between two colleagues, how can you help direct the conversation in a safe manner?  If you feel this is not your place, what are other ways you can help resolve the conflict?

Police Car: A police car is the description for a vehicle used by police to assist with their duties in patrolling and responding to incidents. Typical uses of a police car include transportation for officers to reach the scene of an incident quickly, transportation of criminal suspects, or patrolling an area while providing a high visibility deterrent to crime. For some people, the symbol of a police car is something positive.  For others, it has a negative connotation and would be the last place they would go for help.

Here are some specific debriefing questions for the police car:

  • Who do we go to if we need help?
  • Who protects us?
  • Do we follow the rules all of the time or just when the ”rule enforcer” is nearby?
  • What emotions do you feel when you see a police car?

Tire: Tires are ring-shaped parts that fit around wheels to protect them and enhance their function.  They are used on many types of vehicles, such as bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and aircraft. Tires enable better vehicle performance by providing traction, braking, steering, and load support. They form a flexible cushion between the vehicle and the road, which smoothes out shock and makes for a comfortable ride.  We all know what happens when we get a flat tire and the obstacles this event presents us.

Here are some specific debriefing questions for the tire:

  • What do we need to keep the wheels turning?
  • How do we continue forward motion?
  • How does our group respond if a conflict happens and we have to stop and “fix the flat”—that is, resolve the conflict?
  • “Your Turn at the Wheel”—The tire could be used as a conversation tool if group members are talking over one another.  Whoever has the tire has the floor.

Fire Extinguisher: A fire extinguisher is an active fire protection device used to extinguish or control small fires, often in emergency situations. It is not intended for use on an out-of-control fire, such as one that has reached the ceiling, endangers the user (i.e., no escape route, smoke, explosion hazard, etc.), or otherwise requires the expertise of a fire department. Typically, a fire extinguisher consists of a hand-held cylindrical pressure vessel containing an agent that can be discharged to extinguish a fire.

Here are some specific debriefing questions for the fire extinguisher:

  •  Where's the fire? What started it?
  • What do we need to do to put out the fire?
  • How do we prevent the fire from getting bigger?
  • Is the fire/conflict one we can handle on our own, or do we need to call in the fire department/human resources/manager?

Where to find it/How to make it:  Training Wheels sells a set of these—7 parts packaged in a 5 x 8-inch, snazzy stuff sack. The stress relievers are all made of polyurethane. Latex free.  You could also use Matchbox cars, pictures of these items, or the actual items themselves.

Purchase from the Training Wheels store: Setting the Conflict Compass, Traffic Debrief

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