Sunday, March 19, 2006

conflict transformation 101

it is amazing how very little shifts in perception and ways of behaving can dramatically transform a conflict situation into a life-affirming one. not only does all end well, the participants to the conflict are-- i'm sure of it, basing on my own inner experience alone-- transformed in some deep and life-enriching way.


so i wrote that polite but firm letter to the dean.

the next day i received a note saying the dean would like to meet me at 5pm.

my initial (and accustomed) reaction was anxiety, bracing my self for a potentially negative, face-to-face confrontation with her, based on what i know of her communication styles with others and in general.

so all throughout the day, it worried me.

but i remembered, too--actually, i made my self remember-- what i learned in my MA peace studies class--

1. avoid being drawn into two-way extreme polarities;
2. check and re-check your assumptions and perceptions;
3. always look for the third (or fourth, fifth, ...) alternative, creative way;
4. do "The Onion" technique, probe deep and go down to the needs and feelings level, instead of staying stuck in the positions and demands level.

so i fought with my self to treat this coming encounter as something new, not influenced by past perceptions of her and the way she handles conflict. i made myself come into a state of being where i anticipated the communication as a fresh start, a wonderful opportunity to change things for the better...

soon enough, two students came to me, still asking about what to do with their theses; but they shared, too, that the dean went into their class last night, almost in a begging manner, to ask them to submit their bound theses soon...

that quickly changed how i saw her. that she needs this thing to work out well, too, as much as i and the students want it to. that she actually might need my help and cooperation and support, and that maybe, that is the reason why she wants to meet with me privately later (and not to lambast me and put me down for talking back, as i was thinking)!

so for the rest of the afternooon, i felt lighter, actually looking forward to the private meeting with her. i made sure, too, to dress smartly and boldly for the day, looking good in my bright red blouse and tan slacks, to boost my confidence. : )

so when i came into her office, i was feeling and looking upbeat.

she started by saying that she's responding to my letter. i let her talk, but i kept nodding to let her know im hearing what she's saying.

of course, first, she talked about her position and about the university policies, and how the deadline is a collegial decision which the university administration accepts, and how it's in everyone theses guidelines...

then she waited for my response.

i started by saying that i understand her position and was in fact, even surprised to find that in our department's guidelines, there is no mention of the deadline that she says. then, i showed her the thesis handbook with the guidelines, and suggested that maybe it should be changed for next schoolyear, but right now, what can be done to avert a crisis?

it went on and on, our talk, but i took conscious care not to negatively react to her bait of sometimes insinuating that i have not been doing enough for the students, that i should know the APA format as well as she does, too. i let it pass as i was focused on the goal-- a positive resolution to the conflict, and saving the students from the next day's bound thesis deadline.

towards the end, she admitted that on a personal level, my letter struck her as if she was the one to blame for all the delay. i quickly and heartily agreed-- but in a way that i told her that was my and the students' perceptions, and that we may be wrong, but i felt frustrated, that's why i had to write the letter to clarify things officially.

and so, now, this was her opportunity to explain her side, and she said that she didnt see anything wrong in her asking the students to keep revising them as when we first submitted it, it was still in late january and early february anyway, so there was still time...

and i let her answer the unspoken question her self: now that there is very little time left, and given that it is not provided for in our thesis guidelines, what is to be done?

so a mutually acceptable settlement was worked out, that she wouldn't insist on the deadline as it's not in our guidelines, but that she would like to talk to the students to air her side, too, and that i will tell the students to personally come to her office per group to talk to her and renegotiate their deadlines with her.

i went home feeling good. i also appreciated her willingness to see the issue more clearly and to do what she can to solve it. i told her so by texting her, thanking her for her sense of fairness and consideration.

i think it made her feel good, too, because the next day, i heard that her talk with the students went well, and when she saw me briefly when i passed by her office, she smiled brightly.


my most significant learning from this experience, though, is my own self growth and change of perception-- that there is, indeed, more than just two polarized sides to any conflict; that our assumptions and perceptions do strongly dictate the way we approach a conflict; that there is always a third or fourth or more alternative and creative way; and that when you go down to the feeling level with another, you are just left with your barenaked human selves, and that is the ground for positive transformation to quickly take root and sprout more peaceful and happier ways of addressing a conflict.

heck, i feel so good even my previous growing angst and bitterness over administrative smallmindedness is completely gone! : O

even as im still intent on my decision to leave when it's time, i look on things here now with an affectionate, tolerant humor, even if outwardly, nothing much has changed.

and, most importantly, i think i might have even gained a staunch ally and friend in her now, too.

living, breathing, hard-earned inner-struggled peace in the truest sense of the word...

i feel so blessed.
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