Main Quad » Staff Admin Building Home »

Conflict Resolution Tips and Tools for Staff and Administrators

College and University Administrators and staff are faced with one of the most complex working environments possible. Described by theorists as "organized anarchies," "loosely coupled systems," and "defective pressure cookers," the campus environment is full of challenges and plenty of opportunities for conflict and misunderstanding. In this section of our site, we provide some tips and tools that might help staff and administrators work with the conflicts they encounter with as much grace and skill as possible.

Tips Sheets/Articles

* The University of Arizona's Human Resources Department has prepared a good set of short but helpful briefs on managing conflict. See "Managing and Resolving Conflict: Tools"

* Larry Hoover, Director of Mediation Services at the University of California - Davis, wrote up the process they use for developing departmental "communication protocols." Sample documents are included for review.

* 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.

* Administrators may feel compelled to give advice to people who seem upset or challenged, but this may not always prove effective. Communication Skills, Five Ways of Responding (from a good collection of online conflict resolution materials developed by the ADR program of 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.

Online Tools/Handouts

* 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.

* Parliamentary Procedure: Toward the Good Order of the University is a web page with advice and answers to common questions on parliamentary procedure from Dr. John A. Cagle, Parliamentarian of the Academic Senate and Professor of Communication at California State University, Fresno.

* Perhaps your staff 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 is documented online in the Handbook on Using Formal Consensus Process (alternative to Roberts Rules) by C.T. Butler and Amy Rothstein

* A nice online resource for staff 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.

* These resource documents from the Columbia University Ombuds Office might also be useful. Topics include effective apologies, dealing with workplace stress, documenting conflict, etc.

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.