Practice #5: Resolving Conflicts and Differences of Opinion
Conflict between good people happens in the best of relationships. As you work within groups on campus and in the community, you will encounter differences of opinions, beliefs, and ideas. Resolving differences without damaging relationships is a useful skill for working with people in any setting. It is particularly helpful in service-learning or community-based research experiences where there is a partnership between the university and the community.
When conflict does arise in any kind of relationship, it is helpful to understand the steps to move toward agreement. Here, we describe the practices developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project and published in the 1991 book, Getting to YES: Negotiating agreement without giving in, written by Harvard faculty and Negotiation Project leaders Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton.
Getting to YES provides an easy approach to resolving disputes or conflicts without getting "taken" and without getting angry. It's a step-by-step process that helps us find mutually acceptable agreements.
The process lays out four steps to solve conflict:
Step 1: Separate the people from the problem.
Step 2: Focus on interests, not positions.
Step 3: Use objective criteria in negotiating.
Step 4: Work together to create options that will satisfy both parties.
Application of Conflict Resolution and Negotiation to Service-Learning:
Often times, students in service-learning environments don't feel like they have the power to negotiate with their community partner. They may feel like they have little input into their roles—they are just expected to show up, do what they are told, and then leave.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Service-learning and community-based research are about helping a community partner and about providing a beneficial learning experience for the student. Both are essential.
In order to get the most out of your experience, you should not be afraid to use negotiating techniques to find a role that will allow you to both learn as much as possible and help your community partner. While you may not have the ability to negotiate big things, you can still use negotiation tactics in smaller ways to ensure you make the most of your experience.