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The college student's guide to navigating conflict resolution

December 14, 2022
Design by Madison Echlin.
Design by Madison Echlin. —
Photo by Madison Echlin | The State News

When college students leave the comfort of home for the first time, they subsequently face an unexpected struggle: independently dealing with conflict. 

Conflict in college can present itself in many forms. It might look like a roommate that struggles with privacy, lab partners that fail to do their fair share of the assignment or even a professor that gives you a difficult time. Michigan State University has resources available to help students solve these problems. 

Rick Shafer of MSU's Office for Student Support and Accountability said a common struggle with conflict is the misconception that it is an inherently negative concept. 

“Without conflict, as social creatures, we can not survive,” Shafer said. “We need it. It’s how we learn.”

For students looking to initiate a conversation, Shafer said to revolve the conversation around your feelings rather than using accusatory language. A way to do this is using “I” statements in place of “you” statements.

 “If we're just honest with people about how we feel about things, without labeling them or demeaning them, we're gonna get a better response,” Shafer said.

Shafer also advises people to “listen through” anger. 

“Listen through people's anger, somebody might say they're angry about something, just listen, don't interrupt them, don't intervene, just let it go. Most of us, our egos get away,” said Shafer.

University Ombudsperson Shannon Burton serves to help students resolve conflict with representatives of MSU.

“If they have a concern around a grade dispute, they feel like a faculty member has been treating them unfairly, an academic unit has been treating them unfairly, they can reach out to our office and we’ll talk them through the options they might have,” Burton said.

Burton describes the Office of the University Ombudsperson as “the office you go to where you don’t know where else to go.” It handles issues at both formal and informal levels. 

Informal solutions include providing tools like conflict coaching to help students better understand how to communicate with the person they are in conflict with. They also offer training surrounding compassionate communication and having difficult conversations.

“We also help them figure out what options they might have in terms of ... if they need to escalate their concern or conflict,” Burton said.

Formal solutions offered by the office include referring the issue to another member of the institution or going to the chair director of a program.

The Office of Student Support and Accountability website offers the following questions to consider when dealing with conflict: 

  • What are the ideal outcomes or goals of the resolution process?
  • How willing are those involved to be actively engaged in the process?
  • Which resolution pathways have strengths and weaknesses that most effectively meet your needs?
  • Are there institutional obligations that dictate a particular approach?

Shafer said resolving conflicts properly can actually be what makes a bond stronger.

For more details and resources, visit the Office of Student Support and Accountability's webpage.

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