For many students, this semester has been a time to live with new people, join new groups, start new jobs, and perhaps live away from home for the first time. Missouri State and the Springfield community may even be starting to feel more and more like home. College can also be a time where you are exposed to ideas and experiences that may lead you to develop new thoughts, feelings, or opinions, some of which may differ from family, friends, or hometowns. Now that we have reached November, Thanksgiving and winter break are quickly approaching, meaning many students will begin making their way back home. When traveling to be with family and friends this holiday season, conflict can arise because of these differences in thoughts and opinions. We want to help you navigate these situations so you can have a fun and restful break. It is important to address these conflicts, as research has shown time and again that interparental conflict has a directly negative effect on students’ academic performance and development. (Waithaka, 2014). Below are some tips, tricks, and suggestions for handling conflict that may arise over breaks.
Set the Stage
If it is time to have a difficult conversation, you need to properly set the stage. In her 2017 book We Need to Talk, renowned mediator and communication scholar Celeste Headlee presents three important action steps to help drive more beneficial and productive conversations. The first is described as “Be there or go elsewhere”. It is crucial to be committed to conversations about conflict and reaching a resolution for the conflict. Secondly, before engaging in the resolution conversation, is it important to self-reflect checking for any bias or assumptions you have made about the situation or parties involved. The third action step, which Headlee argues maybe the most important, is to put away any electrical devices or phones before any conversations, but especially difficult ones. Don’t use do not disturb or silent, don’t just put the phone on the table face down, put it away- out of sight out of mind.
Advice from the Center for Conflict and Dispute Resolution
Missouri State University is proud to house a full-service Conflict and Dispute Resolution (CDR) Center that provides resources for students. Director Dr. Charlene Berquist and Assistant Director Heather Blades provided the following advice on how to have a happy holiday season and address family conflict.
- Choosing to Respond… or not. It is important in conflict to manage emotions that may come out. If a family member tries to start a conversation that will probably become an unproductive argument, change the subject, or find a reason to leave the room. Remember – it takes two to tango! By adjusting your response to the other person, you can alter the dynamic of the relationship. Sometimes, the way in which we respond to comments by others can create more conflict. When we respond out of anger or defensiveness, the situation is likely to escalate. Surprisingly often we can end the drama simply by not responding, or by saying “OK” and moving on. No response IS a response, and a powerful one.
- Accept the reality of who people really are. If you are interacting with difficult family members, don’t attempt to change them. You will only get into a power struggle that causes defensiveness and invites criticism. Remember, there is only one person you can control or change: yourself! This can feel frustrating, but when we display and model positive behaviors, others are more likely to follow our lead. And even if their negative behaviors continue, at least you can look back on your choices and feel proud that you acted calmly and maturely. In some situations, it could be that they are passionate about the position they hold. Actively listen and seek to understand their point of view. Being genuinely curious about their beliefs, values, hopes, and fears helps to open a deeper dialogue. When you get to the core of what’s important to your family members, it often allows a richer understanding that may not have seemed possible if you had not taken the time to listen first.
- Know your limits. It is OK to limit the time you spend around family. Set up realistic limits and stick to them. Plan time or activities that allow you to take care of yourself – this may mean taking a walk, enjoying a good book for an hour, listening to a podcast, soaking in a warm bath, or other activities that take you away from the holiday stress and help you recharge. In the words of Audre Lorde, “Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.”
- Help others feel recognized and appreciated. Sometimes in our own stress, we forget that holidays are stressful for others as well. Help your family members feel more relaxed, loved, and valued by making a point to tell them something you appreciate about them, or by clearly recognizing something they have done well over the past year. We too often assume others know what we are thinking or how we feel about them. Just a few words of love, support, appreciation, or encouragement can mean a lot to our loved ones.
We greatly appreciate the CDR and their staff for their contributions to this blog. For more information, assistance, or if you have any questions the CDR can be contacted at www.missouristate.edu/cdr/, by phone at (417) 836-8831, or email CDR@missouristate.edu.
Conflict Resolution Training
We understand that addressing conflict can seem overwhelming. Those who have some form of conflict resolution training have stated that they feel more confident, capable, and satisfied with their ability to resolve and handle conflict. (Waithaka, A., Moore-Austin, S., and Gitimu, P., 2015). Right here on Missouri State’s campus, the Center for Dispute Resolution offers a variety of options to train students, faculty, staff, and community members. Training sessions are offered throughout the year and can be found on their webpage. The CDR also offers both graduate and undergraduate academic certifications!
We hope that everyone finishes their semester strong and has a safe, relaxing, and fun Thanksgiving and winter break! As always, feel free to contact the Office of Student Conduct at StudentConduct@missouristate.edu or (317) 836-6937. Connect with us on social media @MSUConduct.
Headlee, C. (2017) We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter. HarperCollins.
Waithaka, A.G. (2014) Conflict hanging styles among college students: The influence of conflict training, personality, and Family Conflict resolution. Liberty University.
Waithaka, A., Moore-Austin, S., and Gitimu, P. (2015). Influence of conflict resolution training on conflict handling styles of college students. Research in Higher Education Journal (28).