Kelso’s Choice: What a frog can teach us about managing workplace conflict

T’was two nights before Christmas . . . and my two grandsons were playing at the kitchen table. The six year old (Logan) was setting up some of his action figures while his five year old brother (Ryerden) watched intently – almost too intently, as his elbows rested on the table. The table began to jiggle and one of the action figures fell over. (I braced myself for the predictable escalation from “stop it” to “I’m not doing anything” to poke, bite and ultimately, adult intervention and a time out.) What happened next caused my jaw to hit the table (and almost knock over one of the action figures).

Logan turned to his younger brother and said “Ryerden – I’m getting annoyed that your moving the table.” Ryerden replied, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to”. Logan ended the conversation (in a slightly scolding tone embarrassingly reminiscent of their mom) – “well don’t, I’m getting annoyed.” They resumed their play, leaving me dumbstruck.

When I asked my daughter what had changed since their pitched battles of only four months earlier, she explained that the kids had been learning about Kelso’s Choice in their kindergarten and grade one classes. Kelso is a frog, the creation of Diane Hipp and Barbara Clark who created a conflict resolution program “on the premise that every child is capable of becoming a peacemaker. Designed around Kelso the Frog, this program offers nine options students can choose from to resolve minor conflicts on their own. Students will be able to determine the difference between minor problems they can handle and serious problems that require an adult’s help.”

The philosophy of the program reflects the belief in the intrinsic promise and capability of all individuals, as they have the power to make clear and positive choices in their lives.

The choices are:

  1.  Wait and cool off.
  2.  Go to another game.
  3.  Talk it out.
  4.  Share and take turns.
  5.  Ignore it.
  6.  Walk away.
  7.  Tell them to stop.
  8.  Apologize.
  9.  Make a deal.

 And if you try two of these choices and the matter isn’t resolved, ask an adult for help.

Notable by their absence from the list of choices were the ever-popular:

  • “say nothing and badmouth the person behind their back”
  • “attack them and call them names” and
  • “suffer in silence”.

I couldn’t help but reflect on how many workplace conflicts would be resolved, defused or prevented by implementing one of Kelso’s choices. Maybe workplaces could learn a thing or two from Kelso the frog and my grandkids!

For further information on Kelso’s Choice:

About Gary Harper, The Joy of Conflict Resolution

Gary Harper is the principal of Harper and Associates. He is a trainer, writer and facilitator who specializes in conflict resolution. Through his unique blend of experience as a personal injury lawyer, general manager, insurance regulator and retail store owner, he learned the value of clear communication and conflict resolution skills. Since 1991 he has trained and mediated in a wide variety of organizations - from health care to the film industry to many levels of government. He is a member of the instructional team of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of B. C. and recently authored The Joy of Conflict Resolution: Transforming Victims, Villains and Heroes in the Workplace and at Home.
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