Part 1: Teaching Students What Conflict Management Is and Why It Is Important
- Teach Students: 1a. Defining Conflict
- Teach Students: 1b. Identifying the Reasons for Conflict
- Teach Students: 1c. Defining Conflict Management
- Teach Students: 1d. Reflecting on Conflict Management Quotes
- Teach Students: 1e. Conflict Management Is Important to Me
Part 1: Teaching Students What Conflict Management Is and Why It Is Important
Learning Target: Students can define conflict and conflict management, identify instances of conflict in their lives, and explain the importance of developing conflict management skills. Students understand that conflict can be productive when handled appropriately and that conflict management can be learned—it is not something that comes naturally.
Students need to understand what conflict management is. They also need to identify instances of conflict in their lives and understand how developing conflict management skills can help them.
Before students can understand conflict management, they first must understand the concept of conflict. They likely have a misconception of what conflict means; perhaps they view it as fighting or arguing with another person. Conflict is defined as “a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals” (Noonan et al., 2017, p. 1). Once students know what conflict means, they can reflect on how they usually respond to conflict and understand how learning conflict management can help them throughout their lives.
Students also need to understand that conflict can be productive when handled appropriately and can improve relationships. The definition of conflict does not specify that there must be a wronged party or that any one person is inherently more correct; approaching conflict with this mindset focuses on retaining and improving relationships.
In Teach Students: 1a. Defining Conflict, you will guide students to understand better what conflict means. You will also support your students in reflecting on their usual or typical responses to conflict. After students understand conflict and how they typically respond, they can determine how conflict management can help them in various situations. Watch as a teacher introduces conflict management to her students.
Teach Students: 1a. Defining Conflict
Ask students to write their current definition of conflict on the “Teach Students 1a. Defining Conflict” handout (Handout 1a. linked to on page 11 of the Educator Workbook). Have a few students volunteer to share their definitions of conflict, and explain to students that before they can understand conflict management, it is important for them to understand conflict itself and be able to describe it in their own words. Next, show students the video of Mackenzie defining conflict. As they watch the video, ask them to compare their current definition of conflict to Mackenzie’s explanation.
After the video, provide students with the definition of conflict: a struggle or contest between people with opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals. Ask students to think about how each definition is different (i.e., their own, Mackenzie’s, and the definition you provided). Finally, have them jot down their thoughts on the handout.
- Are Mackenzie and your teacher’s definitions of conflict different from your own? If so, how do they differ?
- How do opposing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals create a potential conflict?
- Can you have conflict without an argument? Explain your reasoning.
- Now that you know a little more about conflict, how would you describe it to a friend?
Next, ask students to remember a time when they were angry with a friend, sibling, or parent in the last few months. Ask them to jot down their responses to each of these questions on the handout:
- What was the conflict or disagreement about? Describe the situation.
- What were each of the perspectives represented? In other words, what did each person want and why?
- Did the conflict happen because of differing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals? Explain.
Ask for a few volunteers to share their examples of when they recently experienced a conflict. Point out the variety of situations students have identified. Explain to students that conflict happens regularly and is a natural part of life. Conflict is inevitable and frequently occurs in our interactions. It can be productive when handled appropriately. Tell students that they can all learn and better manage conflict through practice. As they learn more about conflict management, they will have opportunities to practice it as well.
1a. Reflect and Apply: Reflect on a recent interaction with a colleague or family member that involved a conflict.
- What was the conflict about?
- What were the different perspectives represented in the interaction?
- Why did the conflict happen (e.g., differing needs, ideas, beliefs, or goals)?
Jot your answers down on page 3 of the Educator Workbook.
When students understand that conflict is normal and something that we each experience, they can start to identify the various reasons why conflict occurs. We each have unique experiences, values, and needs, and those play a part in how we interpret situations.
The way we communicate information is often based on our unique perspectives. Our perspectives can also cause us to fail to communicate—both misunderstood communication and the lack of communication can lead to conflict. In Teach Students: 1b. Identifying the Reasons for Conflict, you will support students in identifying various reasons conflict can occur. Understanding the different reasons conflict can occur will help them realize how frequently conflict occurs in our lives.
Teach Students: 1b. Identifying the Reasons for Conflict
Emphasize that conflict is normal and a natural part of life. Tell students that conflict can occur for many different reasons, including a difference of opinion, misunderstanding, and miscommunication.
Show students the video Snack Attack. As they watch the video, ask them to identify the conflict and why the conflict occurred and continued to grow.
After the video, ask students to share why the conflict occurred (e.g., lack of understanding, different ways of communicating, poor listening skills). Then ask students to think about their most recent interaction that involved a difference in communication styles similar to the video.
- How were the communication styles different?
- How did the difference in communication styles cause a conflict?
- Did the conflict continue to grow? Why?
Tell your students to use the “Teach Students 1b. Identifying the Reasons for Conflict” handout (Handout 1b. linked to on page 11 of the Educator Workbook) to record a list of reasons conflict has recently occurred in their lives. After a few minutes, ask students to work with a partner or small group and add more reasons for conflict to their list. Ask each group to share a few examples from their list.
Potential reasons for conflict include:
- Misunderstood humor
- Different meanings/contexts for specific words
- Unsolicited advice/suggestions
- Different importance placed on issues
- Body language
- Different levels of communication skills
- Different opinions
- Cultural differences
- Lack of trust
- Lack of commitment
- Emotionally charged situations
- Different values
- Poor listening skills
Summarize that we each have our own ways of seeing things due to differing values, needs, and resources. We are each unique, and this causes us to communicate based on our own unique perspectives. Remind students that the young man in the video expressed himself very differently than the older woman, and this clash of communication styles caused a conflict. When we think about the many ways conflict can occur, learning to manage conflict can help us daily.
1b. Reflect and Apply: The main reasons conflict occurs are miscommunicating or not communicating respectfully. Teaching students to communicate their needs respectfully while understanding the needs and perspectives of others is an important part of conflict management. Use page 4 of the Educator Workbook to jot down your answers to these questions:
- Do your students sometimes miscommunicate or communicate disrespectfully? Explain.
- How will you use what you have learned about conflict to support students in learning to communicate clearly and respectfully in the future?
Once students understand that conflict is complex and there are many reasons it can occur, they are ready to explore the definition and components for conflict management as well as contemplate how conflict management will help them with their daily interactions.
The definition of conflict management incorporates the three components: knowing how you usually respond to conflict, the reasons behind specific conflicts, and taking steps to resolve conflicts. Remember that students need ongoing practice of each component to develop conflict management; that means they have to actively practice reflecting on their usual response to conflict (Component 1). For example, do they avoid a fight to preserve relationships, or do they tend to insist on getting their way?
Students also need to practice identifying the reasons for the conflict (Component 2). This would include their own reasons for the conflict and identifying other people’s perspectives in the conflict. They need to practice considering: Why did this conflict occur? What do I want to happen? What do the other people involved want to happen?
Finally, students need to practice taking steps to manage conflict (Component 3). This means that students need to identify their underlying feelings and choose how they will respond to them. For example, are they going to remove themselves from the situation? Are they going to pause, take a deep breath, and reflect or talk to a friend about what occurred rather than reacting immediately?
In Teach Students: 1c. Defining Conflict Management, you will help students learn the components of conflict management by providing a detailed personal example of how you worked through a difficult conflict situation, using all three components. This activity helps students understand why learning conflict management is important and how it can help them resolve issues with others.
Teach Students: 1c. Defining Conflict Management
Tell students that now that they understand conflict, they can work on understanding what conflict management is and why it is important to learn it. Show students the video of Mackenzie defining conflict management. While they are watching the video, ask them to jot down some notes and thoughts about conflict management on the “Teach Students 1c. Defining Conflict Management” handout (Handout 1c. linked to on page 11 of the Educator Workbook), using the following questions for guidance:
- How did Mackenzie explain conflict management?
- Why do you think it is important to follow a process for managing conflict?
After the video, ask a few students to share their ideas and thoughts about how Mackenzie explained conflict management. Next, tell students you will share a personal example of how you used a process and managed a conflict in your life. Share your example with students, making sure to incorporate how you addressed or did not address each component.
Show students the conflict management poster and briefly review your personal example by explaining how you addressed each component. Explain to students that learning to manage conflict is a process, and the steps we take are called components. The components are what you see on the poster.
Ask students to share their thoughts on using a process to manage conflict. Use the following questions for guidance.
- When you have experienced conflict in the past, how often do you stop and consider the reason for the conflict?
- What are some different ways people could respond to a conflict?
- What are some things you have done in the past to resolve a conflict?
Tell students that in this activity, we will spend time understanding each component more fully and how well we currently address each component. Ask students to reflect on each component as you tell them a little more about each one and to answer the guiding questions related to each component on the handout.
Component 1: Know Your Usual Response(s) to Conflict(s)
Explain to students that this component entails understanding yourself and your emotions. Understanding how you’re feeling can benefit you in expressing your feelings respectfully. Often, we tend to limit our understanding of ourselves to feelings like anger, sadness, and happiness, when we are likely feeling more complex emotions like resentful, isolated, and fulfilled. Explain to students that in order to express ourselves constructively, we need to understand our emotions. As things happen to us and we interpret the meaning of events, we may have a variety of emotions, depending on the situation. It’s important to know that our feelings are based on how we experience a situation (our perspective), and while we can’t control our emotions, we can control how we act on them. Feelings themselves are not good or bad—they just are. What we do with them can be positive or negative, and we choose how we act on them.
Ask students to jot down their answers to these questions related to Component 1 on the handout.
- Do you withdraw, get in someone’s face, go along even if that’s not what you really think or feel, or try to work things out so everyone is happy?
- Do you have one primary response to most conflicts (e.g., avoiding the conflict), or do you respond differently to different contexts (for example, siblings vs. authority figures)?
Component 2: Know the Reasons for the Conflict
To address this component, we need to improve our understanding of others. Sometimes it isn’t easy to understand how other people may be feeling. You can develop this skill by considering another person’s context and situation and how they may be feeling or how you would feel if you were in their situation. This often can lead to a productive discussion with that person and a better understanding of each other.
Ask students to jot down their answers to these questions related to Component 2 on the handout.
- How often do you experience conflict due to lack of communication or misunderstanding? Does it happen frequently or only in certain situations?
- When you experience conflict, describe how you could try to figure out the perspectives of everyone involved (in other words, put yourself in their shoes).
Component 3: Take Steps to Manage the Conflict
Explain to students that part of learning conflict management is learning how our actions can affect the outcome of a situation. While we can’t avoid disagreeing or experiencing conflict with someone, we always have a choice in how we react.
Remind students that the steps we choose to manage a conflict will affect the outcome. These steps could include asking clarifying questions to help understand the other person or negotiating with the other person to help resolve the conflict in a way that benefits both of you. Of course, each conflict is different, and you will want to use different steps depending on the situation. For example, consider a situation in which your friend asked you to go to a concert with her but you know you need to study for your history test to pass history this semester. You might not choose to walk away from the situation, because it could upset your friend, worsening the conflict. Instead, you might decide to compromise with her by explaining that you need to study but can go with her to a different event after the history test is over.
Ask students to jot down their answers to these questions related to Component 3 on the handout.
- How have you addressed conflicts in the past?
- What steps could you take to manage a conflict involving an argument between you and your friend?
1c. Reflect and Apply: In Teach Students: 1c. Defining Conflict Management, you were asked to provide students with a personal example of how you used or did not use conflict management in your life. Providing students with a personal example increases their understanding of how conflict management can help them. Hearing authentic examples of how people used conflict management also increases their engagement in learning. Develop a personal example of how you used conflict management in your life and remember to explain how you addressed or did not address each component. Write your example on page 4 of the Educator Workbook.
Example: I had just started teaching at a new school in the English department. I know how important it is to have a support system and colleagues you can talk to and collaborate with on issues you face as a new teacher. I was upset when I learned that the other three people in my department had been meeting for coffee early in the morning to discuss lesson plans and teaching ideas. I wanted to join them but felt like I needed to be invited. I know that I typically respond to conflict by avoiding confrontation. I thought about why I was upset that I hadn’t been invited, and it was because I felt left out and hurt, especially being new. I decided to share with one of my colleagues that I felt left out and needed some help with my lesson plans. When I talked to him, he apologized for not including me in the morning meetings and told me that they thought that because I was coaching, I might need my mornings to catch up on paperwork.
Here’s Dr. Pattie Noonan introducing an educator who provided her students with an alternative to the personal example—peer examples.
At this point in your instruction, your students should understand what conflict is and what conflict management is, and they are beginning to understand the importance of learning to manage conflict. As students learn about conflict management, they are also changing their perspective on conflict and what they believe about it.
In Teach Students: 1d. Reflecting on Conflict Management Quotes, students are asked to reflect on quotes and how they represent or do not represent their current view of conflict. As students share their reflection on the quotes, it is an opportunity for you to assess where they are in understanding that conflict is normal, it happens often, and it can be productive when appropriately handled.
Teach Students: 1d. Reflecting on Conflict Management Quotes
Briefly review what students have learned about conflict management, including what conflict is, the components, and what could cause conflict. Explain to students that as they are learning more about conflict management, they may be changing their views on it. Tell students that they will divide into small groups and discuss a quote related to conflict. Remind students that each person in the group should have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the quote and that differences of opinion often occur because we all have different experiences in life. Our experiences shape how we view things, including conflict.
Divide students into small groups, and provide each group with one of the following quotes to discuss. After each group member has shared their thoughts about whether or not the quote fits with their beliefs, ask the students to jot down their ideas on the “Teach Students 1d. Reflecting on Conflict Management Quotes” handout (Handout 1d. linked to on page 11 of the Educator Workbook).
- Does the quote fit with your beliefs about conflict? Why or why not?
- Has your view of conflict changed since learning about conflict management? Explain.
- Why might a person disagree with the quote?
- Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.—Mahatma Gandhi
- Conflict is neither good nor bad. Properly managed, it is absolutely vital.—Kenneth Kaye
- Conflict is the beginning of consciousness.—Mary Esther Harding
- Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.—Rumi
- Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.—Mahatma Gandhi
- I like disagreement because it forces both sides to question their own opinions and why they feel that way.—Sam Hunt
- The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them.—Thomas Crum
- The beginning of thought is in disagreement – not only with others but also with ourselves. —Eric Hoffer
- Disagreeing is fine as long as your brain controls your mouth.—Marinela Reka
- For good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument, debate.—Margaret Heffernan
- Conflict, when handled correctly, strengthens.—Benjamin Watson
- Conflict is good in a negotiation process… it’s the clash of two ideas, which then, all being well, produces a third idea.—Luke Roberts
Ask each group to summarize their discussion with the class. Conclude the activity by reminding students that conflict does not necessarily mean that somebody was mistreated or that one person is right and the other person is wrong. Instead, we have to approach conflict by understanding why it occurred, how each person involved might feel, and what strategies can be used to resolve the issue.
1d. Reflect and Apply: Think about the activity you just read. There are many quotes related to conflict, but you may want to consider narrowing the list or choosing quotes that relate directly to your content. There are many ways the activity Teach Students: 1d. Reflecting on Conflict Quotes could be modified to meet the needs and interests of your students. Consider the questions below and record your answers on page 5 of the Educator Workbook.
- Will you teach the activity as written, or do you plan to modify the quotes?
- Are there content-specific figures who you might include in the list of quotes or modern-day figures such as actors or athletes who have shared how they handle conflict?
In Teach Students: 1e. Conflict Management Is Important to Me, you will support students in determining why they want to learn conflict management and how their lives will change as a result of learning it. To engage fully in these activities, students must be able to articulate and believe that learning and practicing conflict management will improve their relationships.
Teach Students: 1e. Conflict Management Is Important to Me
Remind students that people need to be able to manage conflict in various situations and in a variety of ways. While often perceived as negative, conflict is a natural and healthy part of relationships. Conflict management skills can be learned and lead to better interpersonal skills and relationships. Let students know that the next steps in gaining greater conflict management skills involve discerning their personal conflict management styles.
Ask students to respond to the following as a reflection ticket:
Improving my ability to manage conflict is important because __________.
Example responses might include:
- I want to have stronger, more honest friendships.
- I often lose friends because of disagreements or conflicts.
- Sometimes people think I’m angry when I’m just trying to say what I think.
- I’m tired of letting everyone else get what they want at the expense of getting what I want.
- I get into too many conflicts. I want to learn how to resolve them.
After class, read the students’ reflection tickets to determine their initial thoughts about the importance of conflict management in their own lives. Then, note some common reasons for wanting to learn conflict management and consider developing scenarios or facilitating group discussions to provide students with opportunities to practice managing common conflicts.
1e. Reflect and Apply: Think about what your students have learned about conflict management so far. They are likely beginning to understand that conflict is not inherently negative and that learning how to manage conflict can strengthen their relationships. In the last activity, you helped them determine why learning conflict management is important. Teaching your students conflict management should also be important to you. Reflect on the student impacts of learning conflict management summarized below. Which impact is the most compelling to you? Which impact do you believe will benefit your students the most? Why? Write your reflection on page 5 of the Educator Workbook.
Impacts Observed in Students Who Received Conflict Management Instruction
- Makes relationships stronger/more insightful due to increased communication
- Improves your ability to work under stress
- Brings attention to issues and promotes needed change
- Increases academic achievement
Sources: Johnson & Johnson, 1995; Johnson & Johnson, 2002; Johnson & Johnson, 2004; Reio & Trudel, 2013; Roberson et al., 2015; Stevahn et al., 1997; Ubinger et al., 2013