BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Resolving Conflict with Students, Staff, and Parents

By Andy Dougharty
Resolving Conflict with Students, Staff, and Parents

It’s never about what it’s about.
One the great men and women who have influenced me—Werner Erhard, Dr. Wayne Dyer, or perhaps Dr. Richard Bandler—taught me this years ago. I can’t recall which, but one of them did, and it has made all the difference. As a matter of fact, having passed on to you this nugget of wisdom, I could probably end this article here and be relatively confident in its ability to transform who you are in the presence of almost any form of conflict. But I actually have more to say about the matter.
In considering what causes conflict, mindset and attitude are fundamental. But backing up even further, let’s start with “Being.” As in, who are you Being when you’re being who you are? Being is what you bring into the room with you, as you. You don’t need to create a mindset or adopt an attitude or posture if it’s who you’re Being.
In a workshop years ago with Cesar Millan, the man who has become known as The Dog Whisperer said, “Own your state, your presence, your Being. Own the space before you enter. Dogs will respond instantly. Humans might take a little longer, because they have egos that get in the way, but they sense it, too.”
These are the presuppositions that inform my way of Being when I deal with conflict:
• Every behavior is motivated by a positive intention.
• All people all of the time are doing the best they can with the resources available to them.
• Values drive every decision that matters.
• People don’t respond to reality; they respond to their perceptions of reality.
• No one is broken and no one needs to be fixed, but their strategies might be inappropriate or ineffective.
• People will sacrifice just about anything in order to be right or not to be wrong. Being right isn’t a problem, needing to be right is.
• All human behavior is directed towards a purpose, towards meeting a perceived need.
If you haven’t spent time exploring and working towards understanding the relationship dynamics that exist between different personality types, you should start. Myers-Briggs, Compass Points, Enneagrams… They all help illustrate what we might call the differences that make the difference. This is incredibly valuable information if you want to promote and facilitate collaboration and avoid conflicts among individuals in a group.
I have designed a roundtable process during which I act as a coach. My job is to ensure that participants stay on topic and don’t go toxic, that they are allowed to speak without interruption, and that everything that needs to be said has been said by the people who need to say it.
This approach is based on the premise that all breakdowns can be resolved through communication. Add to this that all breakdowns are the result of one, or a combination of, the following:
1. Something needs to be said that hasn’t been said;
2. A question needs to be asked that hasn’t been asked;
3. There is an unfulfilled expectation that needs to be resolved.
I find this framework particularly useful when working with groups of students who are in conflict, especially with one or more members of a social group or clique.
The lists that linger
We live by the lists we make, and we have been making and editing lists since we were kids. They are deeply embedded in our subconscious and they drive our decisions as we make comparisons to the list. This is my most important tool for dealing with parent-child conflicts, and even with parents in conflict with parenting. It explains more about the garbage that gets in the way of authentically relating than anything else I have encountered.
It works like this. When you were young, you created a list called “The Perfect Parent.” You used examples from television, movies, as well as observations and stories about your friends’ parents to compile your list. When you become a parent, this is the subconscious list against which you measure your own parenting behavior.
As a child, you decided that the perfect parents would always believe you, would always give you money when you asked for it, wouldn’t tell you who you could be friends with, wouldn’t make you clean up your room instead of letting you go out to play, etc.
Now, when confronted with these scenarios involving your own children, you realize your child is being dishonest, you think the money will be used for something unwise, your child’s 12-year-old friend smokes and his dirty clothes are threatening to take on a life of their own. You want to say no. You know you should say no. But, something inside you is telling you that you would be a bad parent if you did.
This is the effect of your list. And guess what? You made that list when you were a kid, not when you were an adult parent. You will never entirely rid your subconscious of lists, but you can rewrite them any time you want once you know they exist.
Lists are context-sensitive, so explore them and it will begin to clear away the garbage and open up the space between you and the person to whom you are relating. Describe the Perfect Teacher. Perfect Boss. Perfect Job. Perfect Movie. Perfect Meal. Perfect Child. Perfect Parent. This exercise works in any context because we have lists for everything. We just didn’t know it.
Let me close with the most necessary component: taking care of yourself after being in or being present during a confrontation. Start with this: If you survived, if you are still alive, then whatever you did while it was happening was absolutely the right thing to do.
Now you get to decide: do you prefer to experience a long period of suffering or a short one? What is left is all in your head. I don’t mean it isn’t real—I mean it is in your head. Your head. That means that with the right tools, you can do something about it.
Meditation and mindfulness are popular now and there is value there, but these practices can be difficult to engage in when your thoughts are still dominated by the memory of the parent who screamed at you so violently that his tooth popped out and hit you on the chin.
Look online at any of the fantastic techniques from Neuro Linguistic Psychology (NLP) that relate to manipulating the submodalities of your thoughts. It is the single most powerful tool I have found for completely doing away with the nastiness that sometimes infests my mind after a difficult meeting. Engaging in the NLP process gets me ready in minutes for whatever else is about to come through the door.
And something always does.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


02/15/2019 - Chris

Anatomy of a Breakdown:

1. Unfulfilled Expectation
2. Thwarted Intention
3. Undelivered Communication

Great stuff!



University Visits in a Post Covid World?
By Robbie Jefferiss
May 2021

A Ferry Crossing from Love to Loss and Back Again
By Kathleen Naglee
Apr 2021