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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
Volume 5, Number 1, Sept 2004

A Tale of Two Colleges:
Diversity, Conflict, and
Conflict Resolution

Chapter 2

Across the city at Carlsberg College, a state-run and -funded institution, a similar meeting was about to take shape. A group of faculty and staff women had gotten together to address the child care issue. They talked about problems they were having finding competent care in the neighborhood of the college and the strain the problem was putting both on their families and their performance at work. Collectively they spent dozens of hours each week just driving to and from whatever service they could find. Some child care providers were clearly sub-standard, with a turnover rate of 2 people every three weeks and virtually no training for the employees. Some women were using friends or relatives as babysitters, not their preferred choice.

As the meeting progressed, Beverly Cooper suggested that they make a list of the various interests they had around the child-care issue. "What do you mean, Bev?" Georgette Smiley inquired. "Isn't what we are after an on-site child-care center?"

"Well," Beverly responded, "before we get to the solution, maybe it would help if we understood the problem better and why it is a problem for us. I think that will help us find different ways that the problem might be solved and work with the administration on a plan that we both can support."

A few other women raised questions about the procedure before a consensus formed that they should follow Beverly's lead. Someone had thought to set up a flip chart to write down the suggestions and comments from the process. Georgette agreed to take the notes. Beverly assumed the role of moderator.

"So, why is it we are concerned enough about child care to have this meeting?" Beverly asked. It didn't take long for comments to come from all parts of the room. "We want good consistent care for our children," one person suggested.

"We need to assure continuity of the providers. I've heard that is really important in the early years," came from another corner.

"I would like to be able to see my child during the lunch hour if possible, or, at least, sometime during the work day."

"Cost is a big factor."

At the end of about 20 minutes, Georgette had filled up several flip chart pages, which she had taped to the wall for general reference, containing the following notes:

Consistent care Continuity of service providers Control our costs See kids during day Get fathers involved Save time in commuting to work Increase attention to work Not worry about kids so much Access to kids for emergencies Fringe benefit = non-taxable income

At the end of this process, Beverly spoke to the group again: "We've created quite a list of reasons why we think child care on campus would be a good thing. Perhaps, we should call this a preliminary list of our interests. What is important to us, what we really want, is to get our interests satisfied well. Do you agree?"

Heads nodded around the room. But what was she getting at, several people thought, but did not say.

"What I mean," Beverly added, noticing the somewhat puzzled look on some faces, "Is that it is not so important to us how our interests get taken care of, so long as they do. What the program ultimately looks like is not critical if we agree that it meets our needs."

Some of the women were beginning to grasp the point. Others were, frankly, still a bit confused, but they were willing to go along for the moment.

"I'm suggesting that we might want to have some concrete ideas about how the child-care problem could be solved but that we should not assume that those are the only ideas or even the best ideas on the subject. Remember, we will need the cooperation of the college administration to get anything done. And administration officials will want and need to be part of the process. Otherwise, we'll just be beating our heads against a wall, a very old, ivy-covered wall." Beverly was starting to get through to the group.

"Before we start discussing ways to solve the child-care problem, what we might call options or different possible choices, I suggest we engage in another exercise similar to the one we just went through," Beverly said. "This time, let's try to put ourselves in the shoes of the administration and think of the interests it might have on the child-care issue."

"Why would we want to do that?" a voice from the rear called out. "Their interests are their lookout. I'm sure they'll let us know where their ox is getting gored." Several people around the room made motions and sounds indicating agreement with this view.

"Well, sure," Beverly said. "The administration will be looking out for its own interests, and we should not presume to know them better than they do. But I've found that I have a better chance at persuading another person to go along with what I want if I can anticipate that individual's concerns and address them in the way I make my pitch. As any good salesperson knows, you don't persuade someone to buy unless you have some understanding of why it would be in the buyer's interest to do so. If we want to solve the child care problem, we need to help the administration understand why it is in its interest to work with us on this, if, indeed, it is in its interest to do so."

After some more discussion, the group agreed to go through the same brainstorming process as before; only this time, they were trying to think as administrative officials might think. The list of interests they generated included the following:

Control college expenditures Build/keep a satisfied work force Avoid setting precedents for other groups Avoid negative publicity Create incentives to attract high-quality staff and faculty Allocate resources appropriately Be seen as a leader in the community Qualify for federal and state grants

By the time the group finished the exercise, several people were beginning to see that their interests and those of the college might be in agreement or at least not in as much conflict as they had previously thought. It dawned on a few people that they might be able to work on this matter with the administration in such a way as to help each other. But most of those present were not yet thinking that far down the road. They still believed that the administration would resist anything they proposed and that they ultimately would have to exert considerable pressure to get what they wanted.

The pre-set time for the meeting was coming to an end. Beverly Cooper asked what they thought should happen next. "We don't have time for a lot of meetings," Lisa Gunn injected. She had scarcely spoken during the entire meeting. "Why don't you, Georgette, Janice, and Martha go see the Provost and talk to him about it? See what he says."

Beverly was caught a bit off guard. She had been happy to facilitate the discussion but did not think of herself as the leader of this fledgling organization. Still, she was also flattered that someone was placing confidence in her to speak for the whole group. She asked whether anyone else would like to take the lead. When no one spoke up, she said she would do it. Georgette, Janice, and Martha had helped bring everyone together and had been rather active in the discussion. It made sense for the four of them to work together on this.

Beverly met briefly with her three co-conspirators after the meeting broke up to plan their next steps. "I think the four of us should get together to work out a basic strategy for approaching the administration," Janice Deloria said. "How about lunch tomorrow at my office in the History building?" Everyone agreed.

The next day, the four child-care representatives gathered around a small, round table in Janice's office. The quarters were somewhat cramped, but Janice preferred to think of them as cozy. "Has anyone ever spoken with the administration about this before?" Martha Schlessinger asked. "It seems like it should have come up."

"Not that I know of," Georgette answered. "I think we're on uncharted waters here."

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