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Conflict Management in Higher Ed Report
Volume 6, Number 1, Nov 2005

A Community College
Transforms Its Culture


The following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. The majority of participants use the skills taught in the training. They are being more direct and less defensive.
  2. A sizable group of participants have changed their behavior as a result of the training. Skilled communication is becoming a more natural response.
  3. When the skills are put to use, the results are overwhelmingly positive.

When people use the skills, 64% report that the outcome is generally positive, 30% report a mixed response, and notably, none report a generally negative outcome. One person said, "There are many little opportunities daily that have just become 'the way' to handle things. It comes together as second nature now... It has definitely made me a better employee."

Four individual skills are being used significantly more than average: Raising Issues, Perception Checking, Praise and Recognition, and Consensus Building.

The skill for Raising Issues has clearly provided concrete steps for conflict resolution at the college. People appear to have changed their own process significantly in the way they raise issues. A faculty member said, "I have become more aware of my listening skills and more likely to stop and listen rather than rush full steam ahead with my own agenda. I ask more questions and stop to check more readily. I feel this is enhancing the quality of my interactions with others." A classified staff member said, "One result of the training is a feeling of courage because we have words to use in a difficult situation. I' One manager noted, "In the past, things might have become bigger than necessary and people would dwell on issues. Now problems are resolved more quickly." Another staff person spoke for many when she said, "I had a problem with a co-worker. On the surface we were polite but underneath there was a lot of hostility. I used the Raising Issues skills and set a new tone for our relationship and established a new norm for our interactions."

Perception Checking is the skill people seem to be most comfortable with, and the one most integrated into their behavioral repertoire. As one classified staff explained, "Recently, when my supervisor gave me some work it appeared that he was angry. Rather than dwelling on this concern, I waited a bit and then approached him, using perception checking to find out if there was a problem. It turned out that he was just having a bad day."

Praise and Recognition is acknowledged as a frequently used skill at the college. One classified staff member indicated that by praising the faculty she works with, she has been able to improve their response time. "I was having difficulty receiving the monthly statistical reports on time. I decided to put each faculty member's name on the white board and as each turned in their report I wrote thank you next to their name on the board to publicly recognize them. Now they compete with each other to see who will get the first public thank you - and I get my work on time!" A number of people mentioned the Employee Recognition Gala, which was created by the college to encourage people to praise their colleagues publicly. The event is an open forum and employees say things about the individual being recognized.

People reported that meetings are more productive because Group Facilitation Skills are becoming second nature around the campus. A number of people have had an opportunity to be on a campus-wide shared decision-making team. One supervisor spoke for many when he said, "Since the training, I have noticed a real change in meetings at the college in general. They are more skillfully led, and participants are more skillful." Over a two-year period, researchers observed four different campus groups meeting in their natural work environment. Each group's skill level appeared to be related to the number of people within the group who had been formally trained. Sometimes, a trained and skilled facilitator had the ability to compensate for a group with less training and limited skill. Clearly, the most high performance groups were those where many of the participants were trained in using key facilitation skills.

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