Guest Author - Valerie Shoopman
The ability to solve conflicts is a necessary tool for success throughout your life. However, if you are a special needs student, parent, or teacher, resolving conflicts successfully can make all the difference in maintaining a peaceful co-existence and achieving academic success.
Students need to know how to resolve differences with teachers, parents and other kids. Special needs kids sometimes have the greatest challenges because their social skills can be lacking, and most people don’t understand them, what there needs are, or what they are about. So naturally, conflicts arise quite often.
Parents of special needs kids can definitely use conflict resolution to skillfully go through an IEP meeting and get their desired IEP goals written, and more importantly, implemented without attitudes. Parents can also use conflict resolution to help guide their children through life, particularly those difficult teen years.
Every teacher should have a mandatory course in conflict resolution as far as I am concerned. They have so many things to deal with coming from so many different directions from so many sources, that if they can’t effectively resolve conflict, they are going to be frustrated, depressed, mean-spirited, and just plain burned-out.
The following conflict resolution strategies allow each party to get what they want and know where the other person is coming from. More importantly, everyone can leave with a good feeling about the resolution process, and the means they used to achieve it. It is those feeling and empathy pieces that are missing in the many other ways I have seen conflict try to be resolved.
The first step for successful conflict resolution is to recognize and admit that there is actually a conflict. You also need to be able to differentiate between a reaction, which is emotionally driven and a response, which is feeling driven.
Reactions almost never have positive outcomes where both parties can save face and come to a solution that meets both their needs. Reactions are those emotionally charged words or behavior that later you think, “I wish I would not have said that”, or “that’s not what I really meant”.
On the other hand, a response dictates that you include what you and the other person might be feeling or experiencing. A response allows you to actively listen and take in all the facts to move towards the best decision for a win-win resolution for both parties.
Five types of conflict resolution exist. What conflict resolution type are you?
1. Withdrawing (short-term, the issue is not resolved)
2. Smoothing (short-term, the issue is not resolved)
3. Forcing (anxiety ridden resolution)
4. Compromising (each party gives up something to resolve the conflict)
5. Confronting/Problem Solving (lasting resolution where both parties each get what they want)
You want to resolve conflicts, so you have to throw out withdrawing and smoothing because they do not resolve issues. You do not want to have to keep resolving the same conflict repeatedly, and you want each party in the conflict to walk away feeling good and excited over the fact that they got what they wanted. Therefore, you will have to go with confronting/problem solving type, which is where we will concentrate our efforts.
The person who has the issue is going to calmly ask to discuss the issue with the other person(s) involved. The person who requested the discussion is going to talk intentionally while the other person actively listens. When you talk intentionally, you need to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements and focus on the problem, not the person. Do not make it personal, just talk about the facts.
The person actively listening should listen without judgment, and resist the temptation to be defensive. They should not try to offer solutions at this time, but they should mirror the other person, repeating exactly what the other person said and then checking “Is that right?” This is to make sure everyone is on the same page, and it lets the person talking intentionally know that you really are listening to him or her.
Validate what they are saying by relating some experience you had to the current situation. Also, be sure to show empathy while you are validating. Example: “I had a similar situation occur a while back….” “It made me feel misunderstood, confused, anxious, ect., so I imagine that is how you might feel.” Check in with them and ask “Is that right?” or “Is that how you are feeling?”
When the first person is complete, then switch roles from talking intentionally and actively listening and begin the process again. While this can feel awkward, especially in the beginning, it will become more natural the more you practice it.
The hardest part to grasp for most people is the active listening. Everyone wants to do his or her own thinking to know what to say next instead of listening, or just interrupt the other person. However, to be able to repeat back exactly what was said, you have to be actively listening to the other person. Automatically, this makes the other person feel better because they know they are being heard, and that is usually all people really want is to be able to express their opinions and ideas and have someone truly listen to them.
Once the problem is out in the open, you then can research the problem if necessary. You will want to find some common ground for both of you. Use brainstorming to explore and evaluate the options, including action steps that are concrete and broken down step-by-step. Select the best option or combination of options that will result in you both getting what you want, creating a win-win situation where everyone feels good about the outcome.