Do youth need conflict resolution skills? Part 6: Healthy conflict

Help youth with resolving conflict by teaching them to separating people from problems.

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? It is important to understand conflict does not have to be negative. In fact, it can be a healthy experience, encouraging a shared understanding that can lead to positive change. Unhealthy conflict can be an obstacle in any group attempting to reach its goals. Sometimes conflict can feel like a contest where there are clear winners and losers. In healthy conflict, we are seeking a shared solution that confirms the necessity to ensure conflict does not become a contest. One way to help ensure conflict does not become a contest is to separate people from the problems.

The importance of respecting individuals in a conflict regardless of their opinions cannot be overemphasized. When maintaining good relationships, it is important to remember to separate the problem or issue from the people involved. It is recommended you intentionally work to keep discussion revolving around the issues without become attacks aimed at individuals. The concepts that all ideas have value and all individuals are to be treated with respect are foundational to all successful teams, and vital to resolving conflict.

You can help youth develop the skills needed to resolve conflict by encouraging them to understand conflict can be a healthy way to learn and grow. Remember that respecting everyone and valuing their opinion doesn’t mean you agree with them. It does, however, mean you are willing to have a healthy discussion that explores all sides of an issue and look for a resolution. Engaging in healthy conflict is one way to explore new ideas and expand your frame of reference.

This article is part of series discussing conflict resolution with youth. The Michigan State University Extension 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.

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

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help 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 our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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