It is natural for there to be disagreements between people and it would be unlikely to get through the whole of your time at Warwick without coming across some kind of conflict. Therefore, developing skills in effectively navigating your way through conflict is an essential part of University life.
CONFLICT - An active disagreement between people with opposing opinions or principles.
A conflict occurs when the individuals involved recognise there is a threat to their interests, needs or concerns; whether it is physical, emotional, power or status.
Whilst disagreements are perfectly normal, and can actually be a very helpful catalyst for change, conflict can also be very difficult to experience and can result in a breakdown in relationships, friendships or work colleague relationships.
Examples of common causes of conflict at University:
- Disagreement with housemates about the ‘rules of the flat’ – see How to be a Good Housemate [add link to page when created].
- Feelings that peers are not equally contributing to a joint project.
- Differing views or values about an important or emotive topic.
- Disagreements with tutors, lecturers or supervisors about academic progress.
Ways of resolving conflict
The LEAPS acronym (from the book Verbal Judo; The Gentle Art of Persuasion) suggests a ‘respond not react’ approach to conflict:
Listen to what the person has to say, use active listening skills to understand how the other person is experiencing the situation. This allows the other person to diffuse some of their feelings and ensure you know why they feel the way they do.
Empathise with what the person has to say, you don’t have to agree but the other person is more likely to be willing to listen to how you see the situation if you are willing to see their perspective.
Ask questions to obtain more information so you are more aware of the whole situation, and reduce the danger of assuming you understand why this is something so difficult for the other person.
Paraphrase by putting the facts into your own words, this will demonstrate your listening skills and allow you to check understanding. This then opens up the dialogue to give the other person a chance to give you details and explanations they may not have given you when they were feeling angry and defensive.
Summarise a course of agreed action, you need to keep the person informed of what you are doing and explain what is within your power to resolve the situation.
There are a number of simple techniques and approaches that can assist in reducing and resolving conflict:
ACKNOWLEDGE - Admit to yourself that there is conflict; accept that the situation is happening. Denial only means the problem will likely deteriorate further; doing nothing has rarely improved a relationship
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY - This isn’t about ‘taking the blame’ but about being responsible for your part in the conflict and being willing to work at improving the situation.
PLAN - Prepare in advance, consider what you want to say, how you want to say it and what you want from the conversation/meeting.
Choose a good time to talk about the conflict, when there are no distractions, pressures or constraints on the conversation.
IDENTIFY - Be clear about what the problem is and agree this together – attack the problem, not each other.
LISTEN - Give the other party a chance to tell their side of the conflict too, this shows respect and your willingness to accept there may be more than one way of viewing this situation, even if you do not agree with what they are saying.
AVOID BLAME - Don't blame the other person for everything or deny you had any part in the relationship breakdown. Be gently honest – this can be a starting point to finding ways to change and solve the difficulties.
THINK CREATIVELY - Consider a variety of ideas to help solve the problem. Don't judge the ideas as right or wrong, or good or bad. Look for options that emphasise the common good. Two or more people cooperating produce lasting solutions more effectively than one person telling another to change.
REACH AN AGREEMENT - Agree a way to move forward and agree to check in with each other at specific times to make sure the agreement is still working.
Wellbeing and Student Support are available for students at the University of Warwick: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/wss/
- Find out more about being Assertive [link to assertiveness page] and having difficult conversations.
- Have a look at the Mind Tools ‘Conflict Resolution: Move From Harmful to Healthy Conflict’ article.
- Read the Very Well Mind articles about How to Manage Your Anger During Conflict
- Title: Getting to Yes: Negotiating an Agreement Without Giving In - Author: Roger Fisher, William Ury, Publisher: Random House Business Books (available from the University Library)