Do youth need conflict resolution skills? Part 4: Be aware and acknowledge

Help youth learn to communicate by teaching them to watch assumptions and defensiveness.

Unresolved conflict can destroy an individual's self-esteem or damage a group's capacity for teamwork. Helping youth learn how to deal with unresolved conflict can help them learn how to communicate their ideas and opinions in a way that adds value to future collaborative efforts. Some common tips to help youth resolve conflict include:

  • Stepping back and thinking
  • Understanding your goals for the conversation
  • Listening to understand
  • Communicating your feelings without placing blame
  • Being aware of your own defensiveness
  • Acknowledging your assumptions
  • Seeking common ground
  • Understanding the other's point of view by asking clarifying questions
  • Knowing that conflict can be healthy
  • Separating people from problems

So how do we help youth effectively address conflict? Very few issues in a conflict have an absolute right or wrong answer. It is important when you stop and listen to acknowledge the ownership and defenses you feel toward one side or the other. It is ineffective to deal with conflict from the approach of all or nothing. Conflict resolution often involves compromising, being open to feedback and willing to be flexible in your ideas. When we are aware of our own defensiveness, we can take steps to ensure that they do not keep us from working through conflict.

Many times, in an attempt to better understand, we try to interpret what is happening around us. We often reach conclusions regarding issues based on our frame of reference, the information that we have, and then hold these beliefs to be true, proven or not. One strategy to avoid having our assumptions increase the level of conflict is to communicate with others our frame of reference and how we are interpreting it to reach our conclusions. We should also ask others to share their frame of reference and the conclusions they have reached. Understanding both parties frame of reference will initiate a conversation, allowing them to mutually work through a conflicting issue. This process will help reduce the chances of assumptions leading to misunderstandings and increasing conflict.

Scientists deal with conflict on a regular basis and need to put aside ownership of individual ideas and be willing to expand their personal frame of reference when asking questions and discovering answers. You can help youth expand their frame of reference by encouraging them to explore the many possible alternative solutions to any issue. Further assist youth in considering when one solution may be optimal due to the specific situation. You can also help youth explore and develop an understanding that depending on circumstances, different alternative solutions may be optimal. Setting aside one's assumptions could allow individuals to recognize the assumed solution may not be the best for the circumstances.

This the fourth article is part of series discussing conflict resolution with youth. The Michigan State University Extension 4-H science team understands the value and importance of teamwork. Helping youth develop the ability to successfully resolve conflict is an important skill for future success in science and in life.

MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read the 2015 Impact Report: ”Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

For more ways to share science with youth in your life please explore the MSU Extension science and technology website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local county MSU Extension office.

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