MMM: How Should I Manage Conflict Within My Department?

Published on: Author: wkkw

A picture of a man standing on a rock. A quote next to it that said "The obstacle is in the path." Zen Proverb

In the October 9th edition of the Monday Morning Mentor (MMM), Jeffery Buller (Ph.D.) and Robert Cipriano (Ed.D.) discussed managing conflict within academic departments. They first explained that conflict can have both positive and negative roles in any department, then highlighted strategies for proactively managing departmental conflict, and finally ended with a role play demonstrating the importance of using conflict management strategies to ensure everyone in a department feels valued.

Buller and Cipriano highlighted the idea that, despite popular perception, not all conflict is negative. “Conflict results from the fact that we have different ideas and different opinions,” said Cipriano. He went on to elaborate that conflict is not negative by itself: The choices people make when reacting to conflict are what often gives confrontations a bad name. Through their discussion, they point out that conflict can either paralyze a department, causing tension and disengagement, or conflict can have a number of positive effects, including:

  1. Allowing new ideas to be heard.
  2. Increasing cohesiveness in a department by allowing people to work through a problem together.
  3. Helping people to think outside the box.

To benefit from these productive results of conflict, Buller suggested departments come up with a conflict code that is within the accepted methods for their discipline. By laying out a clear method of dealing with problems, he said, people are less likely to engage in aggressive, non-productive behavior to solve an issue. In the same way, he urged department chairs (and others in the department) to invest in one another. Through mentoring programs, greeting one another, and celebrations in the department for publications or other life successes, a department can create a climate where people feel invested in and comfortable solving problems together.

After giving practical solutions and a new framework for thinking about conflict, Buller and Cipriano engage in two separate role plays. In the first one, Cipriano plays a rude department chair who is late to the meeting, engages in aggressive posture, and refuses to hear Buller’s request. This is a sharp contrast to the second role play, where Cipriano is on time and courteous, and the problem is resolved in a productive way. By modeling conflict-resolution strategies, this edition of the MMM offers a productive new way to think about how handling conflict can help to improve our departments.

While the MMM webinar itself is only available for one week, IUP CTE maintains an archive of transcripts, slides, and handouts offered as part of each MMM webinar. Contact Sharon Aikins, CTE Administrative Assistant at if you would like to request these supplementary materials. Be sure to provide the title of the webinar and the date with your request.

Written by Lauren Gaynord

Edited by Marie Webb

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