Conflict in the Classroom: Recognize Its Potential and Manage It
The potential for conflict is possible in any classroom environment. If it is not resolved there may be long-term effects on learner productivity, working relationships, and the overall learning environment. Conflict can disrupt the class when there are opposing views, opinions, needs, and beliefs, which in turn may lead to opposition and negative reactions. It is also possible that conflict can reach a productive conclusion when it has been resolved through meaningful interactions that result in stronger working relationships.
There are several cues that conflict may occur in the class, including growing tension, increased vocal volume or hand gestures, a recurring disagreement, or personal differences that prevent the instructor and learner from working together. There is a difference between a conflict and a dispute. Disputes often involve short-term disagreements about facts, opinions, or beliefs. Conflicts are escalated disagreements that involve perceptual and emotional reactions.
When there is a breakdown in communication it does not mean that a conflict has occurred. A short-term dispute or disagreement can be resolved quickly and if left unresolved it may become a deeply rooted problem that results in conflict. Resolving conflict begins by moving past emotions and initial reactions to find a common language that addresses the needs, interests, or demands of both parties.
During conflict resolution it is helpful to separate facts from feelings so that the heart of an issue is addressed and a plan for resolution developed. An issue may occur as a result of something being taken out of context or some form of miscommunication. Creating a plan of action is helpful for any conflict situation, whether real or perceived, as conflict engages the minds and emotions of both parties. A successful conflict resolution plan should work towards addressing issues and restoring a productive working relationship.
An instructor can take the lead during conflict resolution discussions and model dynamic communication. It is important to understand what the issue is really about and what it would take to resolve it to the satisfaction of the instructor and the learner. The results of this communication depend not only on the resolution plan but also on the sincerity expressed and the choice of words utilized. Having a focus on issues instead of feelings, while working together, is likely to resolve conflict. The most effective resolution is one that is agreed upon and accepted by both parties, one that negotiated through a process of collaboration.