Advancing Conflict Resolution with Working Professionals

By: David J. Smith, October 10, 2016

For the past 7 years, I have taught in the certificate program at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University (GMU).  In the program, students choose from one of four tracks.  The certificate is offered on weekends:  my class meets over 5 weekends.  It’s an intense schedule and requires a high level of commitment. I teach the introductory course: Intensive Introduction to Conflict Analysis and Resolution.
They are for the most part working professionals, looking to integrate conflict resolution approaches in their current or future work.  My students are serious minded and often senior in their offices, and have come to recognize that a better understanding of conflict is necessary for their work.  As a senior practitioner myself, I feel a kinship with these students.  In the class, I emphasize that we are colleagues and work to move the relationship to that level quickly (rather than the more traditional student/teacher model).

This year’s class was one of the most diverse and engaged I have had.  My students worked in an array of government, private and, educational environments including the military, Department of Defense,  Department of the Treasury, think tanks, and GMU.

For the culminating activity, students working in teams, explored an invention technique 20161009_141802.jpgand presented to the class its applications.  This gave them the chance to think about specific ways that they can take their knowledge and consider how it might be instrumental in their work.

This year’s class was divided into four teams.  The topics they looked at were mediation, negotiation, informal processes (including narrative approaches), and 20161009_122131.jpgstructural change. Mediation and negotiation are traditional ways to dealing with conflict. Mediation is probably the most popularly known means used in an array of settings including workplace, community, and with family conflict such as divorce and separation. It is also applied in international contexts, though often in not as structured a means as in domestic settings.  Negotiation, of course, is the most ubiquitous form of conflict resolution.   Though used daily in personal and professional settings, we don’t often consider specific theory and practice approaches.   Informal processes consider the myriad of ways in which professionals can apply conflict-sensitive approaches in engagement.  Narrative approaches look at means such as storytelling to help those in conflict understand their conditions.  Finally, structural change looks at more aggregate strategies that can be applied to an entire system to affect change where violence has been commonplace.

In all presentations, students included activities for the other students to consider 20161009_131645.jpgincluding  a mock mediation and assessment activity.   For students, they benefit from seeing how intervention approaches can deal with conflict.  I also benefit from the presentations. They allow me to consider how best to integration practice into my course work and my own practitioner efforts.

Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

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