Every person will perceive conflict differently. Some people try to avoid conflict while others seem to thrive in it. Conflict can both be debilitating in some situations while healthy and necessary for others. When handled effectively, conflict can challenge ideas, spur change and progress, inspire growth, improve communication, and preserve future relationships.

Conflict is not the Answer When...

  • It is avoided and ignored.

  • It negatively affects morale and efficiency.

  • It is expressed as a personal attack.

  • It creates a hostile living or learning environment.

  • It shuts down the lines of communication between people.

  • It creates an environment where others do not feel safe and respected to share their thoughts, needs and perspectives.

  • It causes resentment, anger, frustration, withdrawal and/or violence.

  • Behaviors and actions don't change after a conflict is supposedly resolved.

When You Hear of a Conflict on Your Floor...

  • Gather information from all parties involved, not just the person with the problem.

  • Let residents know that conflict is normal and in most cases can be resolved. You have been trained to do this and can be more successful than them doing it alone. Help instill confidence in your process.

  • Ask whether the person who has a problem has voiced their concerns to the other person yet. Very often a problem is due to the other person not knowing they’re causing issues.

  • Speak to the person with the problem and share the following steps of escalation:

    • Work it out amongst themselves (this is the desired outcome)
    • Mediate with an RA
    • Meet with your supervisor either alone or together with the problem person

Mediation has a few steps to make sure you do it right. Let's review those steps.

 Pre Mediation

  • Gather information from all parties involved. Before you start, you should have an idea of what each person thinks the problem is and possibly brainstorm a few solutions. Talk to them.

  • Make sure both parties are motivated to resolve the issue. Can they agree on a time and place? Will they actually show up? Or would one rather just agree to the other's terms in order to avoid a conflict?

  • Determine the current “balance of power” amongst all involved to help determine what role you’ll need to play during the mediation. Will one person talk over the other and you'll need to reign them in? Will one person intimidate the other so they'll talk less?

  • Discuss the situation with your supervisor. Get tips prior to mediating!

  • Don’t make any promises regarding the outcome of the mediation. Very often what you think is the problem based on your information gathering won't turn out to be the case when you actually dig deep into the issues. It turns out to be something older or more complicated.

  • Find a neutral space to conduct the mediation where everyone will feel empowered. A study room? Your room? The RA Office?

  • Try to set a time that is convenient for everyone. Set a deadline to schedule this time so no one can stall indefinitely. If a party does not schedule by the deadline, let them know that you may have to just pick a time and it is their responsibility to comply with what is decided. You will still act in an even neutral role to help everyone get something out of it.

During Mediation

  • Explain that your role as mediator is to start topics, ask questions, summarize decisions, and referee if needed.

  • Tell them everyone involved has equal rights to be heard and speak freely. If you need an object that the speaking person can hold to help maintain a speaking order, you can introduce one.
  • Have both students set goals for the mediation. "I would like to just be able to sleep." or "I want to be able to have my friends over."

  • Let them talk it out and step in only where necessary to keep the conversation on track or ensure everyone is equally heard. Call out any personal attacks made and immediately deem them unacceptable. If someone is unable to cease making personal attacks, you may need to end the mediation at that time until they can agree to come together again without doing that.

  • When they share concerns, encourage they stick to specifics instead of generalizations or blanket remarks. "Last week when you did this..." vs "You're always so annoying."
  • Be task oriented and stick to the topics you propose. Take notes - this allows you to reference back to what’s said and ensure that all issues have been covered. Don’t be afraid to table a topic and come back to it if conversation stalls.

  • Summarize and clarify what you’ve heard when something revealing is said or a big decision is made.

  • Ask questions to help guide both parties toward the resolution you’re hearing.

    • What do you think will happen if you don't try to solve this issue?
    • Is there anything else that you would like to add?
    • Is there anything you want the other person to know?
    • How did hearing that make you feel?
    • How do you feel hearing that what you said makes the other person feel that way?
    • What would you like to see happen now?
    • What do you think you can do to solve this issue?
    • What could you do next time to avoid this issue?

  • When both parties finally understand each other's concerns and where they are coming from, get down to it and talk about solutions...

    • Tell them you will vet all suggestions so that only realistic, within College policy and expectations ones will ultimately be considered.

    • Keep it neutral  - do not take sides. Try to make sure either each person gets their core issue resolved or they are both happy to sway one way or the other.

    • Don't allow any 'break period' before the solution takes place. If they decide they are going to do something, it starts as soon as the meeting ends.

    • Let them know that you won't allow one side to "win" as mediations should be mutually beneficial.

    • Call someone out if they play the blame game - "You are rude because you do this." Encourage the use of “I” messages and not in the half-hearted way such as, "I feel insulted because YOU are rude."

Post Mediation

  • Follow up with all parties involved a little later. Are the solutions still working?

  • Put all mutually agreed to outcomes in writing and send to all parties involved. An email or roommate agreement sheet would suffice.

  • Talk to your supervisor about the mediation process. Make sure you didn't miss anything and that you can also vent about how it went.

  • If conflict remains, ask your supervisor for the next step.

Don’t be discouraged if the mediation isn’t able to resolve every issue right away. Sometimes it takes multiple mediation sessions to come to an agreed upon outcome. You may solve one problem this time but have to stomp out a few others. Solving even one issue during a mediation is a success! Also, sometimes solutions may work for awhile before becoming an issue again due to failing to address a more underlining issue. It’s okay if you have to revisit the situation again in the future, just share that you don't think you got to the core issue and should mediate again.

“I” Messages

Most messages we send to others regarding behavior are very strongly directed at them and what they’re doing “wrong.” Most of the time these messages don’t resolve the issue, and will often make matters worse by causing the other person to feel attacked or become more resistant to changing their behavior. The use of “I” messages is a way to let someone know that you don’t approve of their behavior while getting them to consider the effects their decisions are having on others. This also leaves them in a power position to change their behavior for the right reasons and not just because someone told them to do so.

“I” messages consists of three parts:

  1. The specific behavior (When you play your music that loud)
  2. The resulting feeling you experienced (I feel upset)
  3. The tangible effect on you (I can’t study very well)

For example: “When you play your music that loud, I feel upset because I can’t study very well when there’s a lot of noise.”

Adapted in part from Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, 1971.