Here at Menlo College, we recognize the importance of conflict resolution, not only in daily life, but also as a useful and adaptive skill valued by potential employers. In fact, “problem solving skills” are listed in Menlo’s Resume & Cover Letter Guide as the number 1 most desired attribute in a prospective hire, according to the employer survey conducted in 2018 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers! You heard right: valued even above quantitative skills, leadership skills, strategic planning, computer or technical skills, and even organizational ability, lies PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS.
If you think about it, it makes sense. We live in a world where conflict is a daily occurrence—whether it be dealing with a close family member or friend, strangers in line at the grocery store, managers, supervisors, or even in what we ingest through Netflix, television, or online, conflict is pervasive. It’s not always bad; in fact, in most cases conflict can help to push us to positive solutions and inspired outcomes that we never imagined possible (…wasn’t it Plato who said, “Necessity is the mother of all invention”?), but that doesn’t always make it easy.
In a recent article, featured on The Chronicle of Higher Education, author Alexander C. Kafka showcases the need for conflict resolution on college campuses as a preemptive action against the standard cause and effect approach: “Consultants say that when conflict-resolution programs are brought to college students, it’s usually in reaction to a crisis, often a hate incident. Far better, they say, to teach those skills early and pre-emptively, before the arguments over schedules, the academic emergencies, the drunk roommate, or worse.” In light of this ever-present need for conflict resolution, grade schools, high schools, and even colleges are turning towards curriculum or training programs to instill daily doses of helpful practice into the lives of young students.
But at what point do the exercises and hypotheticals become a fun game or icebreaker played at orientation as opposed to useful skill building? And how do we assess success or attainment of said skill sets when individual personalities remain such an ingrained part of identity and therefore action and approach? Kafka illuminates this challenge when he discusses the different conflict resolution personalities that have been established. He writes, “Are you the owl who collaborates? The turtle who avoids? The shark who competes? The teddy bear who accommodates? The fox who compromises?” Depending on your innate approach to conflict resolution, handling issues as they arise can range from “easy-peasy” to intimidatingly difficult.
The debate on the value of developing problem-solving skills can be put to rest. We all know they’re valuable, but what do we do with that information and how do we ensure that individuals are incurring these imperative abilities? Perhaps the place to start is with self-understanding. Is your starting point at the level of an owl, fox, bear, turtle? Or are you a different animal altogether? Take this conflict management quiz to find out, then post your answer below!
P.S. Looking to improve your writing or oral communications skills, including conflict-resolution or salary negotiation? Meet Dr. Marianne Neuwirth, Director of the Oral Communication Programs! Dr. Neuwirth, who has a PhD in Communication, has been teaching conflict resolution strategies and skills for several years with various organizations. Here at Menlo she conducts a series of conflict resolution workshops for multiple athletic teams to help foster cohesion and collaboration among team members. This is the third year she has been doing the workshops, and coaches have noticed improved communication and willingness among their players to engage constructively with others during conflict incidents. One of the most important aspects of the training is learning what one wants from the other party, and how to express that without alienating the other party. Two of Dr. Neuwirth’s mottos include: “the best way to resolve conflict is with your ears,” and “you cannot truly resolve conflict unless you tell the truth.” Students express themselves with greater ease after these sessions, and see the benefits that conflict can bring. Click here to learn more about Menlo’s Writing & Oral Communication Center or schedule an appointment with Marianne or one of her esteemed colleagues today!