When Project Teams Don’t Get Along!

This past week I was leading an SEL workshop with a group of teachers in New Mexico. We were discussing strategies to build the SEL competency of Relationship Skills, particularly communication and collaboration, and I shared some sentence stems that I use to teach students how to redirect group members when they are off task or not completing their work.

One of the teachers, Thomas shared a technique called OFNR, part of Non-Violent Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. He pointed out that my sentence stems reminded him of it, and that he had been successfully utilizing OFNR in the classroom and with his personal relationships for years. Here is a quick summary of what OFNR means:

1. Observation

The first step is to state your observation of behavior without judgement:

“When I see/hear/notice ________________…

2. Feeling

Next share how that action makes you feel. It could be a positive or negative feeling:

…I feel_____________…..

3. Need

Then explain what you need from them (think Maslow’s hierarchy here):

…because I need/want/value ______________.

4. Request

Then make a specific request based on your need. It cannot be a demand, and you must be prepared for the person to say, “no.”

Would you be willing to …….

Student Examples in PBL

When I see your part of the project is not done I feel frustrated because I want to be successful in this class. Would you be able to finish it by tomorrow?

When I hear you say “I am lazy” I feel worthless. I want to get my work done but am unsure how to get started on my task. Would you be willing to help me?

When you listen to my ideas I feel like a valuable member of the team. Can I share my perspective a minute?

When I notice you watching videos I feel stressed because I need help completing the research. Would you be willing to pause and help me finish the task due today?

When I am interrupted I feel disrespected, but I want to contribute my ideas. Can I share my thoughts completely?


I thought it was great to find an expert validating my experience in the classroom: when students share how other people’s actions make them feel, it can be a powerful motivator for change. Empathy is important to teach and model, leading to higher functioning groups.

OFNR is not some kind of magic formula that works every time. It is sentence stems to help students clearly communicate issues with each other in a respectful manner. Some students avoid conflict, letting their frustrations stew below the surface until they blow up. Other students may use judgmental or hurtful language to attack one another. Many students have never been explicitly taught how to resolve conflict and resort to limited tools that they have. OFNR is a mindset that directs people to explain an issue so it can be addressed without it turning into an emotional argument. It recognizes that both people in the situation have needs that they are trying to meet. Sometimes the needs are divergent and sometimes the way students seek to meet needs sabotages the group. Calmly and clearly identifying needs leads to an opportunity to find common ground toward a solution.

What about you? How do you teach students to work successfully in groups?

Learn with me!

Interested in more SEL and PBL tips? I continue to offer virtual and in person coaching and workshops throughout the school year outside of my teaching commitments and am now scheduling for the summer! Let’s chat about how I can customize learning for your school.

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