Cultivating Conflict Resolution Skills

Everyone in graduate school is stressed, and everyone in graduate school is competing for something. The stress and competition of graduate school inevitably leads to conflicts among professors, students, and those who support professors and students. Conflicts in graduate school have negative consequences for everyone: conflicts can damage mentor relationships between professors and students and can increase problems among peers. Although conflicts are bound to happen, you can learn how to diffuse and resolve conflicts by practicing the following conflict resolution skills:

Shut up and listen.

Sometimes, the most productive thing we can contribute to a conversation is our silence. When two or more people try to express their opinions at the same time, a dialogic conversation becomes a monologic conversation in which nobody hears anything. You will gain conflict resolution skills if you quit talking and listen to those around you.

Don’t try to win.

Getting the last word in a conversation does not mean that you have won an argument. In fact, trying to get the last word in most often makes conflicts worse. Learn to recognize when it’s time to walk away from a conflict-based conversation, and be willing to cede the last word if necessary.

Let go of the past.

Conflicts don’t happen because of nothing, and most people are not willing to forget what started the conflict or what happened during the course of the conflict. Being unable to let go of the past and move on only prolongs disputes. Even if the other person or people involved in the conflicts are not willing to move on, you can use your conflict resolution skills to take the high ground and begin moving on by letting go of whatever happened in the past.

Pick your battles.

Aesop’s fable about “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a perfect example of why you should pick and choose your battles. If you constantly raise all the alarms for full battle about things that are trivial or nonexistent, then no one will listen when you really need to battle about something significant. Know how and when to distinguish between something that is and is not worth engaging in conflict.

Study nonverbal cues.

People will often say one thing but do another. People may also harbor unspoken resentments that can remain long after you think conflict resolution skills have resolved the issue. Learn to recognize and interpret nonverbal cues and to identify inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal cues, inconsistencies that may indicate other unspoken issues in the conflicts.

Find support.

Likely you are either in the middle of a problem or one of the two people involved. Talking to someone outside the situation is a good way to get an honest opinion from someone you trust. Bring up the problem to a friend or family member; if the conflict takes place within the classroom or with academic personnel, consider talking to your academic advisor to find a solution.

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