STOP. LISTEN. THINK. PEACE.
As you begin college, one thing you might be thinking about is how you will get along with others and how some of your relationships with friends and family might change. Whether you live in the residence halls, off campus, or at home, you will need to know how to manage relationships with fellow students, roommates, and family members. You will need to learn how to adjust to changes with your family as they arise. You should also take into consideration the conflicts that might arise at school (class projects or student organizations) or at work (team projects or with your boss). No matter how well you know yourself, situations can get tricky when you deal with others, especially if you disagree. While agreeing with other points of view is not necessary, coming to an agreement about how to resolve the conflict you are having is.
How do you feel when you’re in conflict with someone? Irritated? Frustrated? Mad? These are all human emotions with value that can be used toward a positive end. Even though you may feel that conflict is negative and perhaps avoid the situation in order to create fewer problems, remember that conflict is an opportunity. Avoiding conflict may, in many situations, be more of a hassle than working to resolve it. Managing conflict, on the other hand, gives you a chance to learn more about yourself and others. For starters, it can help all parties involved feel better about themselves and their relationships. When you learn how to handle yourself in stressful situations, you won’t become frustrated with everyday misunderstandings, power struggles, or personal slights. You may also learn something from how you react to challenging situations, or perhaps learn about another person’s culture or background. All of these can enhance your college and life experience overall.
TALK THROUGH THE ISSUE
Conflict is a part of everyday life. Adjusting to college level classes, learning your way around campus, and other day to day issues can be stressful, let alone managing conflicts! College provides the perfect place for you to learn the valuable skills that will help you cope with conflict. The first step is to talk through the issues with those involved.
Some helpful tips for discussing the conflict are:
During the conflict resolution process, you may want to consider your response to the conflict. If your style is not working, try to change. Also, make an effort to be an active listener by understanding what the other person is saying. When talking about the issues, state what the problem is and what your needs are. Focus on exploring interests – needs, concerns, hopes and fears – rather than positions, which tend to only focus on surface issues. “I-Messages” are a great way to communicate with others. By putting the focus on how you feel, this strategy allows you to avoid placing the blame on the other person, thereby reducing an escalation of conflict.
BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER
Active listening plays an important role in managing conflict. It’s not about solving the speaker’s problem, but an opportunity for the speaker to clarify thoughts, release emotions, and better understand personal feelings. Active listening places the focus on who is talking, regardless of group size, so the listener can best understand what the speaker is saying. This doesn’t mean the listener has to agree, but instead should understand what the speaker is saying. Keep in mind that active listening is a learned skill, so it may not come easily. Some of the information below may help you to become a good active listener.
Keywords to active listening:
Practice active listening by:
And by avoiding:
UNDERSTAND NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION
Nonverbal communication (a form of communicating information without words) also plays an important role in managing conflict. It can imply certain feelings, agreement, or disagreement through gestures and sounds. Nonverbal communication can either be helpful in resolving conflict or hinder the process. This largely depends on what the gestures imply to the people interacting. You may want to use nonverbal communication to help resolve a conflict. If you do, keep the following key points in mind when you practice active listening.
PUT IT IN WRITING
Part of conflict resolution is the final agreement or contract. You may want to put your agreement in writing so you have it to look back at if conflict arises again. Some things to consider include:
REACH YOUR RESOLUTION
Perhaps, in the end, you will learn how to be a better listener or about how someone views your nonverbal communication. For example, in some cultures, direct eye contact may not be considered appropriate. Therefore, if you are looking at someone directly, that nonverbal communication may not necessarily be taken in a positive way. In this way, by experiencing conflict you can learn about other cultures, gain better or different views of important issues, or improve meaningful relationships. Looking at the positive aspects of conflict can make the entire process more beneficial to you and those around you.
If, in the end, the conflict hasn’t been resolved or it’s too difficult a situation to handle on your own, you may want to consider asking a neutral person to mediate. The college environment has many resources to help you manage conflicts. They include diversity specialists, faculty, counseling center and residence hall staff, as well as many other groups and individuals.
Lisa H. Farinholt-O’Brien, M.S.W.
Office of Housing and Residence Life
The Guide to Pride: Resident Student Handbook is distributed by the Office of Housing and Residence Life and states that all George Mason University residents are expected to know and conduct themselves in accordance with the terms and conditions set forth in the Housing and Dining Services Agreement. It is residents’ responsibility to know and abide by all University and Housing regulations. For more information regarding University Regulations, please refer to the Guide to Pride: Resident Student Handbook at http://housing.gmu.edu.
The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) is committed to the development of theory, research, and practice that interrupt cycles of violence. ICAR is an innovative academic resource for people and institutions worldwide. It comprises a community of scholars, graduate students, alumni, practitioners, and organizations in the field of peace making and conflict resolution. ICAR is a Commonwealth Center for Excellence, recognized for its leadership in the field and its world-renowned faculty. ICAR is committed to advancing the understanding of deeply rooted conflicts between individuals, groups, organizations, and communities in the United States and all over the world through research, teaching, practice, and outreach, as well as developing the requisite processes and conditions for the productive resolution of conflicts. Information for prospective students is located at http://www.gmu.edu/departments/icar/.
Journeys of the Heart is a support group for LGBT students to assist students who are coming to terms with feelings about their sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people a support network. This group offers a safe, supportive, and confidential setting in which students can discuss coming out, developing a healthy support system, dating, and integrating their sexual identities with school and career. Visit http://www.gmu.edu/departments/csdc/journeys.htm.
The Office of Equity and Diversity Services (OEDS) monitors the university's continuing commitment to affirmative action and equal opportunity both in its employment and educational practices. The Office of Equity and Diversity Services ensures that members of the campus community understand their rights and responsibilities to learn and work in an environment free from discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender (including sexual harassment), religion, national origin, veterans status, disability, sexual orientation, and age through education, training and the resolution of complaints. In addition, the OEDS works collaboratively with other campus entities and the surrounding community to create, design and disseminate programs that bring diverse people together for the purpose of learning about and from one another and to share experiences and ideas. Read more about topics around conflict at http://www.gmu.edu/equity/.
Self-Development Workshops provide skills for individuals to improve the quality of their lives and their relationships through personal assessment, education, practical guidelines, and referral resources. Topics include assertiveness in one's academic and personal life; effective interpersonal communication; regulating stress; and anger management. Individual workshops are held regularly and can be accessed at http://www.gmu.edu/departments/csdc/sdwksp.htm.
The Self-Help Resource Library provides a collection of audio and video tapes, CD ROMs, books, and handouts on growth and academic skills available for use in the Resource Library by students of George Mason University during business hours. Programs in the Self-Help Resource Library are organized by categories including assertiveness (http://www.gmu.edu/departments/csdc/assertiv.htm), decision-making, and problem-solving resources which are listed online at http://www.gmu.edu/departments/csdc/media.htm.
Northern Virginia Mediation Service provides voluntary mediation, conciliation, and facilitation services readily available and financially affordable for every resident of Northern Virginia. Other services include educational activities regarding collaborative methods of resolving disputes and restorative justice services to victims and offenders as either an adjunct or alternative to normal criminal justice penalties. Most important is the encouragement, advice, and technical assistance provided with respect to the organization, development, and evaluation of alternative systems for the non-judicial resolution of disputes. To browse these services visit http://www.nvms.us.
The Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project (Campus-adr.org) is intended to increase administrator, faculty, staff and student awareness of, access to, and use of conflict resolution information specifically tailored to the higher education context. Conflict is endemic in higher education, touching the lives of students, staff, faculty and administrators. When handled well, conflict can provide valuable opportunities for learning and change. Conflict handled poorly can be quite costly in terms of time, motivation, and perceptions of safety, security, and interpersonal relations. Visit http://www.campus-adr.org/Welcome_Center/welcome.html.
The Conflict Resolution Information Source (CRInfo) is a free, online clearinghouse, indexing more than 25,000 peace- and conflict resolution-related web pages, books, articles, audiovisual materials, organizational profiles, events, and current news articles. CRInfo provides information on hundreds of peace and conflict resolution related topics in addition to recommended readings and essays on key topics. An extensive networking section connects users with the network of people working in conflict resolution-related fields and a set of Conflict Resolution FAQs (frequently asked questions) provides easy access to many of the most common questions asked by CRInfo users. Check this info packed site out at http://v4.crinfo.org/.
The Conflict Resolution Network (CRN) strives to create conflict-resolving community in a culture of peace and social justice. Conflict Resolution builds stronger and more cohesive organizations and more rewarding relationships. CRN makes conflict resolution skills, strategies, and attitudes more readily and universally accessible. CRN material can be freely reproduced if the copyright notice appears on each page. More information is available at http://www.crnhq.org/.
The Conflict Resolution Site has been established through the joint efforts of the Office of Human Resource Development and Office of Quality Improvement at University of Wisconsin-Madison as a resource to enhance the skills of faculty, staff, and students as they seek to manage conflicts that occur in campus communities and build a positive campus climate. To explore different types of conflicts, their consequences and suggestions for dealing with each, visit this comprehensive site, which includes additional resources at http://www.ohrd.wisc.edu/onlinetraining/resolution/.
Books and Other Reading
McKay, M., Davis, M. and Fanning, P. (1995). Messages: The Communication Skills Book (2nd ed.) Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.