Teaching kids how to resolve conflicts is part of the curriculum in schools nationwide. You teach students to see situations from the perspective of others, but do you practice what you preach? When you're assigned to bus duty again, or when the materials you lend aren't returned, do you appreciate the point of view of your principal or colleague? Or does the hair on the back of your neck bristle?

Although you may love your job, you may get into conflicts over big picture issues, such as how to handle the demands of team teaching. Or everyday aggravations may get on your nerves, such as when a colleague leaves paper jammed in the copier.

Conflicts at school can sour collegiality. But just as your students can learn peer mediation strategies, so can you!

  1. Recognize that conflicts are normal. Every school will have its share of headaches and obstacles. Conflict is a fact of life that you must learn to handle as best you can. Solutions can help you grow, learn something new, or spark creativity.
  2. Don't be a loser-or a winner, either. There are three possible outcomes to a conflict: I Win/You Lose, You Win/I Lose, and We Both Win. While it may be tempting to hammer your point home at all costs, you don't want a colleague to harbor resentment. Learning to focus on the issue-instead of on the individual at the heart of it-may help you find a solution that's acceptable to you both.
  3. Be aware of how you respond. In some cases, your reaction may de-escalate the situation. Other times, you may fan the fires.
    • If you compete, you're assertive in pursuing your own concerns. This style is useful when quick action is necessary or when you need to make an unpopular decision. In most cases, however, competing means that you're uncooperative, and you may alienate others.
    • If you accommodate, you're cooperative, but unassertive. This response is useful when you realize that you're wrong or that the issue is more important to the other person. You may choose this response in order to store up points for future battles. However, this reaction is not appropriate when you make too many self-sacrifices.
    • If you avoid, you don't address the conflict. This reaction is useful when the issue is trivial, a confrontation could be damaging, or you need time to cool off or gather information. This reaction is not a good strategy, however, when a conflict will fester.
    • If you collaborate, you're both assertive and cooperative. Rather than avoiding a problem, you attempt to work with another person to find a mutually satisfying solution. This means delving into an issue and talking about both your and the other person's concerns.
    • If you compromise, you address rather than avoid an issue. However, you don't compete or explore it as in-depth as when you collaborate. Compromising means splitting the difference, exchanging concessions, or agreeing on a middle ground.
  4. Identify the root of the problem. This will help you make better choices when responding. For example, if the conflict involves a dispute over the facts, it's best to cool off, go to the source to verify the facts, and share what you find out.
  5. You may not get all you want. However, if you can live with a solution and support it, accept it. No one wants to be a loser, and a compromise can mean that you'll win-and so will your colleague.