We have all been in conflict at one point in our lives and can expect to be there again. Conflict happens and is a normal part of the human experience. College is a common time in which students experience conflict and are asked to navigate it in ways that may be new to them.
Whether your student lives in a Residence Hall or apartment, being introduced to new people and living arrangements may result in a few awkward conversations and even conflict. For example:
- What times work to go to bed given their class schedule and their roommate's internship schedule?
- How best do they sleep, with the lights on or off? Is music playing fine to fall asleep to but not the TV?
- Should guests be able to stay overnight? For longer?
- Who shops for what items? Can everyone use the ketchup? The shampoo? The laptop?
Learning to engage with people who have different needs, communication styles and lifestyles helps your student to gain skills in conflict management, leadership, and cultural competence which will serve them well beyond their years in college.
When a conflict arises, parents can encourage students to think critically about what the core of the problem is and how they’d like to approach the situation. Let them know they can start to work through conflict by simply raising the issue. Here are some helpful skills to share with your students:
Use "I" Statements. I statements allow students to share feelings and provide context. For example: "I feel___ when you___ because___. What I am hoping we might try is____."
Be Assertive Without Being Aggressive. Let your students know they can communicate their desires without raising their voice or becoming aggressive. Calmly and clearly communicated needs can help a student to maintain relationships with others involved in the conflict.
Listen to Understand. According to leadership guru and author of Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey, most people listen with the intent to reply and miss the meaning of what another is actually saying:
Listening with intent takes time and practice... and allows for a thoughtful response rather than evaluating or judging words as they are spoken. ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.’
These days, digital communication and the loss of face-to-face interactions may make it feel odd for a student to talk directly with someone when they’re in conflict. Some might prefer to start the conversation online, even with a roommate! Encourage your student to approach the situation as best they can; they’ll develop their autonomy and personal decision-making process.
Parents can help by normalizing conflict, noting the skills your student already has within, and encouraging them to use University resources for negotiating conflict. Some examples include:
- The Office of Student Conflict Resolution helps students to resolve conflicts peacefully, and offers tips and tools, consultations, facilitated conversations, and community-based models of resolution.
- University Housing assists students with conflicts of all kinds. Their team includes Resident Advisors and Hall Directors, as well as 24/7 patrolling Security Officers from DPSS who can address larger community concerns.
- Off-campus students can contact Beyond the Diag if they are experiencing conflict in the larger Ann Arbor community.
- Students who experience conflict with faculty or staff or with University policies can reach out to the confidential Ombuds office for help.
- The Program on Intergroup Relations provides opportunities to explore conflicts based on social identity, preparing students to create a more inclusive and socially just campus, workplace, and world.
As your student explores and resolves the normal conflicts of their college years, they’ll be relieved to know they can rely on you and on the University’s resources to assist. And they’ll be developing the skills and confidence they need to live into being lifelong Leaders and Best.
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