Conflict is inevitable. It is simply a part of life.
The most interesting part is seeing how theorists have broken conflict into numerous components with the intention of teaching the best methods of management.
According to Lindlow and Scott (1989), conflict exists on many levels and takes many different forms. There are numerous forces that seem to clash repeatedly. One of the focal points is the public school administrator.
But, according to the authors, although the word conflict has a negative connotation, veteran administrators see it as a two-sided coin. While conflict can be disruptive, it can also serve as a source of creativity and constructive action.
From my reading, it appears that the secret to managing conflict correctly is to choose an action on how to engage in conflict and then to have a resolution plan in place. There are a few interesting theories behind this model of thinking.
According to Fisher-Yoshida (2001), research has shown that everyone who attends a conflict resolution workshop experiences some degree of shift in their perspectives from a new awareness. Mezirow (1990) believes that role plays and shared insights create opportunities for disorienting dilemmas to occur, the cornerstone of transformative learning.
Fisher-Yoshida, Geller, and Wasserman (2005) researched several approaches. In the first, they had participants in paired dialogues telling stories about conflicts they have had or are currently having and possible transformative moments they had in relationship to these conflicts. The belief is that they learned something from another person’s view of their conflict or from the other person’s conflict experience.
A second approach focused on learning and practicing skills which were designed to help the participants better mange future conflicts and their interpersonal situations. The shared awareness honored the skills each individual brought to the group while introducing new skills in dialoguing, communicating and storytelling.
One important aspect of managing conflict appears to be the willingness to deal with it. According to Tjosvold (1993) individuals in an organization who choose to avoid conflict are promoting negative conflict as a short term solution, an approach that usually backfires and causes greater problems.
The main point looks to be that managing conflict is better accomplished by understanding it from others viewpoints. One interesting study I read (Mirzeoglu, 2007) included 38 administrators and 70 instructors from nine universities in Turkey and showed their differences of opinion.
Relationship to Educational Leaders
The study from Turkey was particularly intriguing. All 108 participants completed the Organizational Conflict Management Questionnaire (Ural, 1997), as well as several other tests to be used for data analysis. The OCMQ was the main instrument and it consisted of five sub-scales, including problem solving, avoiding, dominating, and compensating. The test was found to have great reliability. In the end, there were great differences found between the opinions of administrators and faculty. Even though the study was conducted in another country thousands of miles away, the findings could hold true in American educational administration.
The main difference was in the self-assessments. The administrators felt they always used the problem-solving style and sometimes used a compromising style in dealing with conflict. They looked at themselves as rarely acting in a dominating manner when handling confrontations.
On the other hand, the instructors concurred that administrators did use the problem solving style; however, they believed that the dominating style was used much more than admitted by the administrators on their self-assessments. The instructors also registered an opinion of administrators as much less willing to compromise than they had believed.
Another study by Short and Johnson (1994) examines conflict when administrators look to empower teachers. Withdrawal and distancing of participants decreases problem solving and effective interaction making the empowerment process almost impossible.
The main problem with conflict in education is that it is not always used effectively. Fullan (2001) notes that in a culture of change, emotions frequently run high. But, the leaders must welcome the resistance as dissent is a potential source of new ideas and breakthroughs. Jack Welch’s workout at GE is given as an example. In Welch’s exercise, senior leaders get straight feedback from their subordinates in a series of public events.
Educational administrators could accomplish many of their visions by taking some of the conflict discussions to heart. A great leader should realize that others do not perceive the world the same, but subordinates will not always state those differences unless encouraged to without fear of retribution.
If conflict really is a part of life, and the Mother of creativity, then there has to be a healthy place for it in the educational setting, a place where ideas can be appreciated and discussed in a respectful manner. This could be the reason why the number of school-based conflict resolution programs has grown from 50 to over 5,000 in the past 25 years.