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Tools and Tips for Resolving Conflict

Being a faculty member is challenging on many levels. The academic environment, dubbed an "organized anarchy" by some theorists, creates ample opportunities to come into conflict with colleagues, administrators, students, and within oneself over conflict goals and opportunities. In this section of the site we feature various tools or basic tips and reminders to help faculty navigate conflict with as much grace and skill as possible.

Tips Sheets/Articles

  • The Ombuds/Dispute Resolution Services for Faculty at the University of New Mexico offers a helpful collection of article and chapter summaries of works related to managing conflict in academic environments.
  • The University of Arizona has prepared a set of short but helpful briefs on managing conflict. See "Managing and Resolving Conflict: Tools"
  • Tom Sebok, Ombudsman at the University of Colorado, has observed countless conflict mediations and negotiations. Based on observations of parties in dispute, he has come up with a list of behaviors often seen in conflict, and their likely result. See Eliciting Resistance vs. Gaining Cooperation for more info.
  • We all know that teaching can have it's difficult moments, especially if you're willing to grapple with some of life's more complex issues. In this workshop handout on Teaching Controversial Issues, staff from the University of Oregon Center on Diversity and Community share accumulated wisdom on managing discussions on challenging topics.
  • Faculty often feel compelled to give advice to people who seem upset or challenged. Communication Skills, Five Ways of Responding (from a good collection of online conflict resolution materials developed by the VA) analyses various ways of responding and explains the practical results of each type. The five response types analyzed include advising and evaluating; analyzing and interpreting; reassuring and supporting; questioning and probing; and understanding and paraphrasing.
  • Consider these Ten Tips for Managing Conflict, Tension and Anger by Clare Albright, Psy.D.
  • Facilitation Skills for Interpersonal Transformation is an article by Ron Kraybill. In seeking to enable transformation at the personal and interpersonal level in situations of group conflict, facilitators have many skills and tools at their disposal. This article describes some of these and explores the question: What makes these communication skills and tools ìtransformativeî? Following the definition of transformation in the first section, three categories of facilitation tools are then reviewed: skills used in moment-by-moment interaction with parties, techniques for facilitating sustained dialogue, and principles of process design for addressing the larger institutional and structural realities of conflicts. The author concludes that the dual focus of transformation on ìempowerment of selfî and ìrelationship-building with othersî can be seen to lie at the heart of transformative skills and techniques in all three categories.

Online Tools/Handouts

  • Perhaps your department or committee meetings could use a bit more structure, but you're still hoping to make decisions by consensus rather than voting. If so, one model that might interest you documented online in the Handbook on Using Formal Consensus Process (alternative to Roberts Rules) by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein
  • A new Conflict Resolution Information Site has been established through the joint efforts of the Office of Human Resource Development and Office of Quality Improvement at the 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 the campus community and build a positive campus climate. Key Sections include the following:

    About Conflict offers basic definitions and assumptions about conflict and related terms, as well as some core concepts that should be understood when addressing workplace disputes.
    Common Problems poses several frequently asked questions, offering practical strategies for responding to them.
    8 Steps for Conflict Resolution outlines a useful process for responding to conflicts, including strategies for preparing to negotiate and determining whether an issue is appropriate for such an approach. These steps are linked to additional pages that provide more in-depth information.
    Best Practices Have a Process provides examples of processes that are frequently successful in complex situations, disputes that should be addressed by a third party mediator, considerations for department chairs, and strategies for creating an affirming environment in which to negotiate.
    Simulations, Exercises and Resources offers additional tools and processes that can enhance your understanding of conflict, video clips with further discussion of key issues, and a link to a discussion board that may expand our learning opportunities.
  • The American Council on Education has developed The Department Chair Online Resource Center that provides links to short but pragmatic articles, book excerpts, and bibliographies designed to support the needs of departmental chairs. Main content areas covered are The Chair as Leader; The Chair and Faculty; Resource Management; and Legal Issues. Of particular interest is the section on Working with Individual Faculty Members: The Challenge of Departmental Conflict, which is found near the bottom of their section on Building a High Quality Department.

Student Group Work Aids

  • More and more faculty are using student group projects as part of their courses. Students often need some help managing the conflicts that can come up in these settings. An example of a handout to give to your students is Working in Groups - Group Diseases in the Science Classroom:
    A Reference Guide to Symptoms and Treatments
    from Canisius College.
  • Developing an Excellent Group Process is the first page of a 5-part set of materials designed for students to use as they gather into teams for groups work. The materials were developed by Wendy Sue Harper and her colleagues at Iowa State University.
  • Another good online resource for faculty managing group projects is known as Teamworks, the Virtual Team Assistant. It is a web site developed to provide support for group communication processes, and especially for design teams in engineering and other practical arts and sciences. Teamworks includes nine informational modules, each of which contains background information, instruments for self-assessment, lessons to develop team work skills, and links to helpful resources.

Some More Philosophical Offerings

Parker Palmer, Quaker philosopher, has pulled together some of his thoughts regarding conflict and the nature of community in modern colleges and universities. See Community, Conflict, and Ways of Knowing: Ways to Deepen our Educational Agenda.