By Emma-May Litchfield and Danielle Hutchinson
A Principal must wear many hats. Management of students, teachers, support staff, the board and parent expectations requires skill. Working with so many people means conflict is inevitable. Whether it is between staff members, staff and students, staff and parents, it is how we manage it that sets us apart. Rather than feeling uncomfortable in the face of conflict, we can choose to see it differently. Effective conflict resolution is a preventative measure.
- It can be an opportunity to strengthen and mend relationships.
- It can be a means by which we can role model respectful standards of communication.
- In more serious disputes, it can mitigate the need for legal intervention.
Here are some tools to add to your repertoire from the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) field, for the next time someone comes to your office seeking advice about a conflict that has arisen.
- Active listening: Often the person coming to see you has a real need to be heard. Repeating back what someone has said is a simple but effective method of ensuring they will know you heard them. This can be done either using their exact words or reframing what they have said. For example, “So you’re saying that you are ‘feeling frustrated’ because so-and-so ‘took the credit’ for the work you did together?” More importantly, if we actively listen, it will enable us to uncover the real interests or what is really important to this person about the conflict.2 Identifying the underlying interests of each party is a skill that is truly worth developing.
- Silence: Sit back and wait to ensure they have been able to ‘get it off their chest’ before trying to solve it for them. It’s difficult for most people to sit in the silence, and if you give them time, they will often flesh out the story for you.
- Giving a person the space to resolve their own conflict: This one can be tricky, because, as a Principal, part of your role is to assist members of your team in resolving many issues that may arise. This may sound contradictory, but resist giving advice. When the person asks “What should I do?”, rather than telling them, ask open questions to help them explore possible outcomes. Scaffolding questions like, “What have you done in the past?”, “Has this led to an outcome being reached?”, “What could you differently?”.
A good manager endeavours to be fair and thoughtful, especially when managing conflict. Conflict managed effectively supports the practices presented in the current Australian Professional Standards for Principals. Building on our already rich repertoire “provides opportunities for all staff to learn and improve together” .
 Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, > Australian Professional Standards for Principals and the Leadership Profiles http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standard-for-principals
2 Zinsser, J.W (2015, June 4). John W. Zinsser: Navigating from Storm To Agreement (Video file). Retrieved from http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Navigating-from-Storm-to-Agreement
3 Crum, T.F. 1987. The Magic of Conflict: Turning a Life of Work into a Work of Art. New York: Touchstone.