Student organizations are great because of the relationships students are able to develop with one another. Working in group settings can be very rewarding and can create memories for a lifetime! However, working in team settings is not always easy. Conflict among officers and/or members of a student organization is inevitable and can actually make an organization stronger if worked through together effectively.
Healthy student organizations work to avoid conflict by establishing positive team dynamics with clear communication, expectations, and norms at the beginning of each officer term. For resources to help proactively establish these team dynamics, visit our Organizational Leadership Development webpage.
As a leader, you should be able to help manage conflict in your organization. Here are some helpful tips as you navigate conflict!
Step 1: Assess The Situation
- Identify the key players in the situation.
- If the conflict is currently happening, or if the key players are still heated, have everyone pause, walk away, and take some deep breaths.
- If the conflict is reaching a level where there may be physical harm, call University Policy immediately (470-578-6666).
Step 2: Mediate The Situation
- If the key players are not in a good headspace to discuss the situation, schedule a meeting for a future date/time. This will allow everyone to cool off.
- Loop in your advisor if they aren't already, as they can assist with the situation.
- Seek unbiased outside assistance if you are part of the conflict or don’t feel like you can objectively mediate a conflict between others. You don’t want to make things worse!
- Mediate the situation in a private location, such as a meeting room, hallway, or Teams/Zoom
- Do not try to mediate a situation via email, text, or social media. Messages in writing have a completely different tone than when people are able to talk and hear one another's voice.
- Make sure to set up ground rules for everyone:
- Discuss the behavior (not the person) and use "I" statements. Example: DO: "I felt really embarrassed when I was yelled at in front of a large group at our meeting" vs. DON'T: "You were mean for yelling at me in front of our entire organization."
- Use active listening skills.
- Give the person speaking your undivided attention and do not interrupt.
- Use body language, such as nodding your head and using nonverbal facial expressions.
- Listen to understand someone else's perspective, not just to come up with your response to what they are saying.
- Don't make assumptions about someone's intent based on their actions. Ask questions such as "What was your reason for doing....?" This clarity might help change your perspective.
- Once everyone shares their perspective, move toward a solution.
- What do the key players want to see happen as a result of the mediation?
- How can this situation be avoided in the future?
- How can everyone work together to ensure they feel respected and valued?
Step 3: Follow-Up
- Once everyone arrives at a solution, follow-up with everyone to recap what was discussed.
- If your Advisor isn't already aware of the situation, make sure to let them know.
- If possible, put systems or practices into place in your organization so that other officers/members avoid the situation in the future.
- Avoid gossip! Venting to an advisor or officer is different than gossiping with others in the organization. Gossip does not help anyone or the situation.
- Make "mutual respect" the goal of managing conflict. Everyone cares about the organization and you all want to see it succeed, so keep that in mind.
- Everyone responds to conflict different, so be sure to use your interpersonal skills and clear communication to help you manage the situation.
If you need help with navigating any conflicts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for help!