Managing Conflict in the Classroom Bill Kahn Professor of Organizational Behavior
Framing Conflict • The title of this presentation suggests that conflict should be managed: dealt with such that it goes away and does not disrupt the class. • This suggest a certain framing of conflict in the classroom. What is the typical framing? • The typical framing can often do more harm than good. • A different frame: conflict is an opportunity to deepen the learning in the classroom. • Diagnosis leads to intervention … and both are our responsibility.
How Conflicts Present • Among students: in classroom discussions; in groups and project teams; between groups in the classroom • Between students and faculty: in classroom discussions; in office hours; on email • Examples?
Levels of Diagnosis • Individual • Interpersonal • Group • Intergroup • Structural • Cultural
Key Principles • Conflict moves around • Conflicts are messages that have not been sent and received in more positive and direct ways • These messages may be conscious or unconscious • Conflicts escalate until people explicitly address what others seek to communicate • Authority figures need to create settings for deciphering and making use of communications
Creating Useful Settings • Make explicit the use of conflict to advance learning • Create moments of pause to engage others in inspecting conflicts—shift from planned to emergent learning • Make it safe: focus on learning, not blaming • Do not take conflict personally—frame conflict as a message asking for help in learning • Remain open to the possibilities that the messages embedded in conflicts are related to your classroom structure, style, assignments, and relations
In Practice • Name the conflict—describe without interpretation • Shift the discussion to look at what the conflict might signify • Engage others in a process of collective interpretation • Assume the role of excavator, not inquisitor • Ask questions that help others reflect on what they thought and felt before and during conflicts • Focus on how conflict is rooted in people’s desire to learn or perform well in the class • Focus on what can be done to ensure that the class remains a place for effective learning and performance
Unproductive Conflict Rules • TheOstrichrule: Avoid, ignore, smooth over, suppress, laugh away, or in other ways disappear differences and possible conflicts. • The Laid-backrule: Choose to get along rather than productively engage differences. • The Tournamentrule: Frame differences in terms of right and wrong. • The Scapegoatingrule: Frame conflicts in terms of individuals rather than the issues they represent.
Productive Conflict Rules • The Surfacingrule: Allow differences to surface and if necessary develop into conflicts. • The Embracerule: Embrace differences as opportunities. • The Framingrule: Frame conflicts around issues. • The Interestsrule: Hang onto shared goals and interests rather than positions. • The Perspectiverule: Approach differences with respect, concern for process, perspective and humor.
The Importance of Curiosity • Approach conversations with curiosity and a willingness to learn what you do not already know or think you know. • The opposite of curiosity is pathological certainty. • Framing the situation inappropriately means framing others for crimes they may not have committed. • Curiosity enables us to maintain a non-anxious presence