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Nicole's design narrative: Conflict Resolution
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10 April 2015
I was a teacher of the module ‘Human Resource Management’ to metalwork students studying towards their master craftsmen diploma in a Higher Education institution in Switzerland.
It is a traditional school building with traditional seating: students in rows, teacher in front. On a Tuesday morning in 2013, I was engaging for 90 minutes with 11 male students (21-27 yrs old) on providing them with an inspirational and fun episode on conflict resolution. I prepared introductory slides and then they worked and acted on their activities. The students presented their findings on a flipchart and a final thought went towards the best practices take-away from that lesson.
My desire as a teacher is, to enable students finding their authentic leadership style in conflict situations and their resolution, because I belief, that everyone can learn to identify a conflict and is capable resolving it, or at least, ask someone else to help mediating. I don’t know what my students desire and belief was for that lesson, I did not ask them. From my experience I knew, asking a desire and belief question would start an endless discussion without getting some of the factual knowledge across, which I needed to address in accordance to the Learning Outcomes.
I tried to achieve addressing the Learning Outcomes referring to leading teams, developing leadership skills, developing team building. My measure of success was a short (10 min) questions and answers session on what they remembered from the week before and what kind of exam questions they would extract out of the subject.
I offered the theory on conflicts, by addressing a definition of it. Then I addressed the causes of a conflict by offering a structured layout of sender and recipient. At this stage a discussion started, because I asked the students to think of a conflict in their professional life and whether they could identify towards which ordering criteria it belonged. The effect was deliberately wanted, applying theory, its wording and structure to their individual contexts. After this I introduced body language, offering a definition and what to look out for. By illustrating my words, I showed them pictures out of the book body language from Samy Molcho and asked them to interpret, what they see, perceive, sense. This discussion took longer than I wanted to, they were reading a women’s posture extensively. My counter-take on this behaviour was (I knew this would be coming) as always, I took some of the written activities ideas up and converted it into direct questions. As soon as all students started to engage with my repeated question intervention, I was back on where I scripted my lesson layout. They then had to split themselves into groups of 2/3s and work on their activity plan for that lesson. The activities subjects were: Harvard negotiation concept, Edward de Bono and his six thinking hats, Friedrich Glasl’s 9 steps of an escalating conflict, definition of mediation, flowcharted process of a mediation process, organisational culture resolving conflicts, conflicts as a chance for change, good leadership practice after every workday take-away
As usual, I asked which group wanted to take care of which activities, because the students were asked to prepare the presentation of the activities in the last 20 minutes of the session. The students were used to this structuring of my lessons, because I wanted them to find out by themselves, discussing it with their peers and then doing a little flipchart paper to present answer to the other peers who have taken care of the other activities. The obstacles were at this day, the discussion about what organisational culture is and to what extent everyone can influence it. I asked the two dealing with this activity, to list as many of the norms and values they could think of apply to their working place, trying to think for themselves what would be great values and norms to agree to and left the mini-discussion to the presentation part. Watching YouTube videos was as always the fun bit. From previous experience I asked them to work as much apart as they could and due to time management issues, I told them repeatedly how minutes were left for the presentation part, so that they knew when the flipchart paper had to be ready. The lesson finished with the peer presentations, the mini thought exchange on organisational culture and the take away of the good leadership practice where I asked them how likely on a scale from 1 (-) to 10 (+) they will be incorporating this into their behaviour.
My expected outcomes were the formal introduction of the terms used in conflict, resolution strategies, concepts, researching them on the Internet, applying it to their professional context, thinking about organisational culture, how to influence culture and what leadership skill/s enables conscious conflict awareness.
I cannot quantify the degree directly. Indirectly, I got hints and clues of what they remembered the week after, thinking about the exam questions was another hint, whether they could abstract from memory and their professional experience. Passing the exam questions in this area, would be an indicator that they had fundamental theoretical knowledge. I cannot asses their practical experience.
Teaching soft skills is a creative challenge to me. I need to be self-conscious and aware in myself to raise and discuss issues centred around interpersonal behaviour. My approach to learning to understand myself first, then work on the understanding between two and more people is my self selected mission in teaching interpersonal subjects. From where I am, I can try and transfer my insight into how relationships might work. I always told my students, that there is no single solution to their conflict resolution, but the fundamentals in analysing what is going on are the first step into meaning making. Then structuring it, is the milestone which enables the person to air his thoughts where the mediation process could go.
Assessing soft skills is a creative challenge as well. In the exam I presented them with some of their self-invented questions and I gave them a case study where they needed to write what was missing from a formal perspective (looking for the theoretical process steps) and what they would have done differently and why.