This issue outlines some of the important issues surrounding the emergence of conflicts and provides you with practical ideas to help resolve themIntroduction

Conflict resolution It is worth reminding ourselves that conflict is a normal part of life. It becomes a problem when individuals do not have specific conflict-resolution skills. Without these essential skills, communication can break down and blaming the other rather than owning responsibility for behaviour occurs. Many skills need to be mastered and used if peaceful conflict resolution is to take place:

  • empathy − the ability to see issues from someone else’s point of view
  • clear and planned patterns of thinking rather than emotional outbursts

It is virtually impossible to resolve a conflict if either party fails to accept responsibility for their own role in it. Therefore, perhaps the first stage in resolving any conflict is to clearly identify the roles and responsibilities of the individuals involved. This may seem good ad\vice, and in a non-conflict situation it is all too easy to agree with the theory. However, problems soon arise when one attempts to transfer theory into practice. A “Firework” model allows us to identify the following stages in the build-up to a conflict.

1. The Match represents the trigger for the conflict.

2. The Fuse is the second step in the build-up of conflict. Once the fuse has been lit our bodies and emotions prepare for the fight or flight response. The length of fuse will vary between individuals depending on their resolution skills, tiredness, how they are feeling and what has happened before. It is all too easy to move on to the next stage.

3. The Explosion − the potentially devastating stage.

Once we have moved to stage 2 and are close to stage 3 it is unlikely that we will be able to employ conflict-resolution skills. This is the time when we find it difficult to think sensibly or reasonably. It is very hard to see someone else’s point of view − you will probably not understand what they are saying (if in fact you even hear them). Finally, you will find it very difficult to consider consequences or ways forward.

There are several factors that can increase conflict:

  • making unreasonable demands.

In contrast, the following factors can reduce conflict:

  • understanding the other’s point of view
  • calm non-verbal and body language
  • not invading personal space
  • finding some common ground
  • Saying sorry (and meaning it!).

Practical Tips

The key domains within the national Social, Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) initiative clearly map out the initial areas to develop with students:

1. Recognising your own feelings, understanding the clues your body gives you.

2. Specific skills to manage those feelings. Give students plenty of opportunity to suggest, demonstrate and practise their own techniques to self-calm. Role model essential skills in appropriate non-verbal and body language communication.

3. Empathy.

Provide opportunities within class discussion and one-to-one meetings.

4. Motivation. Through class discussion and role-play provide opportunities for students to understand the benefits and “pay-offs” to themselves and their peers when they become more proficient at stages 1 and 2.

5. Social skills. Demonstrating skills in an unreal or “pretend” situation is not enough. Students need to be able put into practice their newly acquired techniques.

Try providing an area in your room where possible conflicts can be discussed. It should be relatively private and out of earshot of the other members of the class. Consider asking students (and adults) to keep a diary of conflicts they have been involved with and how the conflict was successfully resolved (or not!). Pose some examples of conflict situations for group discussion. Make sure you employ appropriate discussion rules (use a circle time approach). Develop the situations into “real” situations in which the initial conflict is acted out together with the possible resolutions. Develop a problem-solving model with students. The aim would be for them to become so confident and adept at using it that it becomes their first course of action, thus avoiding emotional hijack and acting out the fight/flight response. For example:

  • Identify the problem or source of conflict.
  • Take ownership of the problem and identify your role in the resolution.
  • Rather than developing the conflict, try to identify at least five possible solutions.
  • Use the five solutions as the basis of your discussion.
  • Remember to practice key points from the lists above; self-calming, listening, empathy, etc.
  • Now run with your chosen solution.
  • Be prepared to return to the discussion stage if the chosen solution is not working or is unsatisfactory for either party.

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2008

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher level. He has worked in mainstream, special and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.