Starting this fall, we’re dedicating ourselves to a conversation about conflict in academia. If you’re interested in joining us in this conversation, consider signing up for our conflict skills snapshot.
Like many others, we’re tired of the toll unresolved conflict takes and we’re worried that the toll could be getting worse – on our campuses, and in our society. Maybe less typical, we’re also worried that the potential of conflict is getting lost – and it’s a potential that we think matters greatly to who we are and who we want to become.
We define conflict very broadly: conflict to our way of thinking is any instance when ideas, needs, perspectives, power, or experience differ. Based on this definition, conflict is expressed in many ways – arguments or violence, yes – those are what we too often think of, but also in discussion, conversation, questions, and silence. Conflict writ large is our experience of diversity, in all its challenges and potential.
That means we need to be able and willing to engage in conflict if we are going to make diversity work, whether we’re talking about the diversity of our social identities, economic circumstances, disciplinary identities, personality quirks, analyses of data, or ideas about how to move our world forward. Actually, able and willing is not enough – we must seek conflict for it’s ability to reveal our differences and deepen our understanding of what we can learn, see, and gain by bridging our divides.
To make this possible, we need to feel like we can make sense of conflict and engage with it productively. We think that Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann have contributed a big step in this direction with their conflict mode model and the 30-question assessment tool that helps apply this model to ourselves. For more information on the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Modes, read this post.
We’d like to build on this model to help make conflict a more meaningful experience in academia, one that facilitates learning, expands horizons, enlivens classrooms, informs research. We’d like to see departments benefit from interaction across sub-disciplines and methodologies, and hiring and tenure decisions that engage the most difficult questions in ways that everyone comes out better, more thoughtful, more whole. We’re committed to conversations that escalate into insight rather than injury, and that teach us how to respect others while standing for what matters. We think that the Thomas Kilmann model, paired with ongoing conversation among people who are willing to learn new skills, can make a difference.