Improving Conflict Resolution Skills at Institutions of Higher Learning
The CDP on Campus: Improving Conflict Resolution Skills at Institutions of Higher Learning
Roger Sorochty of the University of Tulsa has found the CDP to be extremely useful at several different levels within the university. As Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services, Sorochty heads up a multitude of divisions including undergraduate admissions, financial aid, and student support services such as housing, dining, fitness center, sororities and fraternities, etc.
Having worked at Eckerd College quite a few years ago, Sorochty was familiar with the CDP and thought it would be a great development opportunity for his staff. He initially offered15 of his staff members at the Director level in his division to take the CDP-I and then participate in a two-hour, group feedback session about the results. Since the response was so positive, he then expanded the program to include the full-time Residence Hall Directors. These professional staff members have to work closely as a team and take turns being “on call” during the week and on weekends. Additionally, they are often faced with conflict situations with students—everything from homesickness to roommate differences to excessive partying (Who can forget all the issues that arise in an undergraduate dorm!). Again, participants said feedback from the CDP was extremely useful, especially in regard to knowing and understanding their hot buttons.
With the success of these two pilot programs, Sorochty then offered the course to 40 student leaders (from student government, orientation, Greek organizations, and other student clubs) on campus. Given that these students have had little leadership training and there is constant turnover in these positions from year to year, he knew the CDP would provide an excellent opportunity to develop leadership skills.
“Students these days are used to Facebook and different kinds of social media so they are very forthcoming in sharing their feedback and gaining insights about their conflict management skills,” says Sorochty. After reading the Development Guide and working through the Action Planning steps, the students think feedback from the instrument can definitely improve relationships. “It is an eye-opening experience for many of them because they realize that some of the behaviors they are currently using don’t actually work to their advantage,” says Sorochty. “The fact that the instrument focuses on behaviors rather than styles is ideal because students say, ‘I can work on changing that.’” Sorochty also notes that the instrument helps the students develop a common language where conversation about concepts such as constructive/destructive behaviors and hot buttons becomes commonplace.
Some of the students’ comments about the experience are profound. When asked to describe the most significant thing he learned about himself, one student said, “I always thought I didn’t experience conflict much, but I learned all I was doing was just avoiding it or yielding.” In response to handling conflict differently in the future, another said, “I will definitely try to be more sensitive to the other person’s point of view and try to imagine what they must think of my position before judging them (even if I still disagree.)” Several students concur they could apply the CDP concepts to their everyday life at college.
Lola Mason, Director of Organizational Development at Carnegie Mellon and an adjunct faculty member at the Heinz Graduate School, has also seen the benefits of the CDP firsthand with her students. As part of a seven-week conflict resolution class, graduate students take the CDP-I and then create an informal 360 report for themselves by interviewing four people from among family members, friends, or coworkers. After explaining the CDP scales, the students share their results and ask for feedback including, “Can you give me an example of a time when you saw me using this particular behavior?” After the interviews are completed, students submit a paper detailing what they learned and how they might handle conflict differently in the future.
Mason says there are lots of “ahas” from the assignment. Having previously received feedback on the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Inventory and the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, students make multiple connections between their own personal styles and behaviors and how they connect with others. One student shared a story of how she did her interview with a previous coworker who is now a friend. They happened to have the discussion in a restaurant. The student told her friend how she was surprised that she scored so high on Demeaning Others and asked, “I don’t think I ever do that” to which the friend replied, “You just did to our waiter! When the waiter said they were out of iced tea, you promptly started to shout at him and berate him for something that wasn’t his fault.” From this timely example came a very insightful exchange that increased the student’s self awareness tremendously.
Other students share similar stories where having the interviews/discussions about the CDP with people who know them well leads to closer relationships and improved conflict resolution skills. Example: “I have to admit that it is almost scary how accurately the instrument describes me in almost every situation. And, the feedback I got from my interviews only provides me with more evidence to that effect. To be completely honest, the past few weeks have been one of the strongest periods of internal reflection I’ve had in quite some time, and it has been very helpful in helping me understand a lot of my own behaviors.”
Interestingly, the word has spread about the benefits of the class, and there is a huge waiting list for registration. The class draws students from many different majors, including highly technical fields. Often, it is the first time such students have ever explored these kinds of conflict issues.
Another certified user who uses the CDP extensively is Dale Robinson, Manager of Conflict Resolution Programs at Virginia Tech. Robinson oversees three primary areas for faculty and staff: Mediation Services, Conflict Workshops, and Conflict Coaching.
Robinson and his staff of 20 trained mediators offer the CDP-I as a “post-mediation” service for participants to examine more thoroughly implications from the original dispute. Feedback from the instrument is often helpful in illuminating how a person’s behaviors may have escalated a conflict. Robinson says that not only do participants gain insight into what they brought to the situation, but they also have a chance to develop more constructive responses for the future through individual debriefing sessions.
In addition to Mediation Services, Robinson also conducts several conflict resolution training programs throughout the year for faculty, staff, and sometimes students. These workshops are framed around the CDP-I and can last anywhere from two hours to a full day depending on the objectives and type of audience. Robinson begins by explaining the CDP concepts, conducts a group debriefing on the feedback, and then spends the remainder of the time focusing on skill-building areas such as active listening and generating options.
As a follow-up, participants are offered the opportunity to schedule an individual feedback session on their CDP results which, in turn, often leads to additional coaching. Robinson says these individual coaching meetings are perfect for devising new strategies and helping people to apply constructive resolution techniques to ongoing situations they’re dealing with in the workplace.
One reason the CDP is so useful, says Robinson, is that it “helps people realize that everyone uses both constructive and destructive behaviors when dealing with conflict. We’re not alone when we don’t always respond as best as we could, but the CDP and the accompanying Development Guide give us encouragement and ways to improve.”
Because of the success of these programs at Virginia Tech, Robinson has been asked to help develop the curriculum for new programs at the Virginia Department of Employment Dispute Resolution. The Department’s mission is to provide state agencies and their employees with a broad range of workplace dispute resolution tools.
At Eckerd College, the CDP is well known throughout the campus as it is used at the Leadership Development Institute, the Center for Conflict Dynamics, in academic programs on campus, and also with staff development opportunities. Patty Viscomi, Associate Director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics and Norm Smith, Associate Dean and Director of the Center for Applied Liberal Arts have collaborated for many years using the CDP.
In a class for freshmen called Options for the Future: Career and Self Understanding, students take a variety of assessment tools in addition to the CDP including the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, the Realise2, and the Strong Interest Inventory. The discussions about the CDP feedback focus on issues with roommates, professors, and parents. Students are surprised to learn how the concepts can be applied in so many different arenas. “Why didn’t you teach us this in high school?” is a common reaction after students experience group exercises and lectures which highlight the different CDP scales. Viscomi often uses starter activities from the CDP Trainer’s Tool Kit to kick off the program and help the students to think about specific topics related to human interaction and conflict resolution.
At New York University, staff and faculty are invited to participate in professional development offerings throughout the year. One particular program that has been very well received is the Navigating Conflict course taught by Jamie Telegadis, President of JTA Consulting, Inc. This half-day course includes Deans, Assistant Deans, managers, and supervisors from all different divisions of the university.
Telegadis uses the CDP-I as the focal point of the program. After taking part in ice breaker exercises, walking through the CDP scales, and receiving feedback, participants then spend the remainder of the morning concentrating on two specific items: Perspective Taking and Reaching Out. As part of the Reaching Out content, Telegadis uses an exercise from Developing Your Conflict Competence by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan which enables people to practice creating and delivering apologies. Later, participants engage in a partner activity where they formulate action plans and apply lessons from the day to real-life conflicts.
Telegadis says it’s amazing how the program can change people’s perceptions about the value of conflict. Once they examine the scales in more depth, they are able to take more innovative approaches to working through disputes.
As the CDP becomes more widely used within colleges and universities, the potential for the concepts to expand into different organizations increases. As students graduate and establish careers in multiple fields, the hope is that they will bring more effective conflict resolution skills along with them.