Styles of Conflict Management

We’ve already begun a discussion about conflict in our article Conflict Can Be Good, where we concluded that conflict is inevitable and part of all of our relationships. We discovered that conflict can be good and has many benefits when managed appropriately. Given this,  it’s best to embrace the inevitability of conflict and learn how to manage it.  Learning conflict management doesn’t mean subscribing to only one pattern. Clearly, everyone has their own styles of conflict management.

Uniqueness and patterns in managing conflicts

Each person has a unique style which reflects their own unique wants, needs, and values. However, there are specific global patterns in conflicts that can be identified based on how we deal with such challenges. The important thing to remember is that no one style is a pure typology and inherently better than any other.

You must be wondering, What are the benefits of being aware of my own style? Well, as you recognize your style you can better understand its strengths and weaknesses. Also, you can increase your ability to adopt different styles relative to the inevitable conflicts that arise in all interpersonal relationships as you learn when each style is best to employ.

Styles of Conflict Management and their Representative Animals

According to two researchers, Thomas and Kilmann, we can identify five conflict-handling styles: competing, collaborating, avoiding, accommodating, and compromising. To illustrate these styles, they selected specific animals, because various personality traits can be represented in a more balanced strengths-and-weaknesses framework this way.

The Competitive Shark

Do it my way or not at all!

This is the typical attitude of the shark. Sharks use a forcing or competing style to achieve their goals. They have a need to win – therefore, others must lose. When competing, an individual pursues his or her own concerns at the other person’s expense, using whatever power seems appropriate to win their position – even if it means being uncooperative, threatening, and intimidating. They strongly defend a position they believe is correct or simply try to win.

If the shark’s decision is truly correct, a better decision can result. However, it may result in hostility and resentment toward the shark, or damaged relationships.

This style may be appropriate for emergencies when you need quick, decisive action, and people are aware of and support the approach, or when unpopular decisions need to be implemented. 

The Collaborative Owl

My preference is … What’s your choice?

Owls use a collaborative or problem-confronting conflict management style. Owls value their goals and relationships. They gather information, look for alternatives, dialogue openly, and welcome disagreement. Owls view conflicts as problems to be solved and work to find solutions agreeable to all sides.

The advantage of this strategy is that relationships are maintained (because both sides get what they want) and negative feelings are eliminated. On the other hand, this takes a great deal of time and effort to synthesize everybody’s ideas.

The appropriate time to use an Owl style is when the issues and relationship are both important.

The Avoidant Turtle

Conflict? What conflict?

Turtles avoid, withdraw, deny, or delay conflicts. They would rather hide and ignore conflict than resolve it – this leads them to be uncooperative and unassertive. Turtles even tend to give up personal goals.

This may help to maintain relationships that would be hurt by conflict resolution, but conflicts  and negative feelings may linger, too.

This is often appropriate when the issue is trivial or the relationship is insignificant.   Sometimes it can be effective when the atmosphere is emotionally charged and you need to create some space.

The Accommodating Teddy Bear

Whatever you say.

Teddy bears use a soothing or accommodating conflict-management style with emphasis on human relationships. They agree and flatter because they have a need to please everyone involved. Therefore, teddy bears often neglect their own desired outcomes to satisfy those of the others. There is an element of self-sacrifice.

Sometimes accommodating maintains relationships, but the bear may be taken advantage of.

However, it’s good to use this when you really don’t care about the issue or when you realize you are wrong (and the other party has a better solution).

The Compromising Fox

I’ll give you this if you give me that.

Foxes use a compromising conflict-management style. Individuals who use this approach are concerned about goals and relationships. They have a strategy of a little something for everyone – they tend to find mutually acceptable solutions that partially satisfy both parties.

Foxes are willing to sacrifice some of their goals while persuading others to give up part of theirs. Compromise is assertive and cooperative.

This way it is possible to maintain relationships and find solutions, but compromise is not always ideal.

Compromising is suitable to use in situations when complex issues have no clear solutions or when people in conflict have equally important solutions.

How to use styles of conflict management?

Imagine that you’re going out with a friend. You want to go to the movies and relax. However, your friend wants to go shopping, because they’re attending an important event that evening and want to find a really nice outfit. How do you decide where you’re going?

You love your friend, you want them to be happy, so it’s okay if you please them and go to the shopping center with them.

But, let’s imagine the second scenario – everything’s the same except that today’s the last day that movie is playing! And you really want to see it… What would you do this time?

Would you choose to be a compromising fox? If I help you buy an outfit for that event, you go to the movie with me.
What do you think about these scenarios? How do you choose how to react? The fastest way is to consider your concern for goals and concern for relationships. Check out the graphic below.

Abraham Maslow said If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see each problem as a nail. Likewise, if you have only one predominant conflict resolution style, there are inherent limitations or blind spots, which is why we’ve sought here to help you expand your usual conflict style by introducing other styles and approaches.

 

In Nobel Explorers, we want everyone to learn how to manage conflicts in the most effective way. So, if you find this article useful and want to practice the skills significant for managing conflict – negotiation, check out which projects we offer.

 

Resources:

[1] Eckstein, D. (1998). Styles of conflict management. The Family Journal, 6(3), 240-243.

[2] Thomas, K.W. and Kilmann, R.H. (1974). Conflict Mode Instrument, Sterling Forest, New York.

8 Benefits of Working in International Teams

People are more connected today than ever before. Once upon a time, you had to travel for days to get from one place to another. And if your destination were on the other side of the ocean, it could take weeks! But today, all we need to do is type a message and click send. Even better, we can log onto Skype and speak face to face with someone who’s thousands of miles away from us.

And while chatting on social media and sending pictures to one another is a great way to spend time and connect, there’s another uniquely valuable use for it – creating digital international teams.

What Makes Digital International Teams So Great?

The list of benefits is endless,  so we’ll only mention some of the most important ones:

  • Productivity
  • Creativity
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Understanding of other cultures
  • Offline time
  • Learning to think quickly
  • Future employment

And that’s just for starters! So let’s dive into them and learn how you can enhance your skills by becoming part of a digital international team.

Productivity

When you have an international team at your disposal, chances are the flow of ideas will be endless. Some of your coworkers will come up with ideas that would never have crossed your mind, and you’ll do the same! Thanks to your different experiences, you’ll all have completely different mindsets, which will allow for some incredibly interesting ideas.

And if you’re part of a digital international team, chances are you won’t be tied to the usual nine-to-five office routine. This will allow you to motivate yourself and work under your own conditions, which is a huge boost for productivity [4]. You’ll find it much easier to focus if you’re sitting in an old T-shirt drinking a cup of tea and listening to music, than if you’re sitting in an office chair in dead silence just praying for the clock to move faster.

Creativity

This is closely connected to productivity.  If you have all these people from, say, Europe, Asia, or Africa in your team, you’ll be constantly surprised by how differently they think about certain things. Now, imagine how important that can be when it comes to brainstorming! Why is that? Well, mostly because there’s no right or wrong when it comes to brainstorming. The more ideas you can think of, the better! Your coworkers will not only pitch in with their personal experiences, they’ll also teach you about what works in their own environment. Similarly, they’ll learn what works in yours, so you get the chance to try out lots of  new things together [4].

Problem Solving

In the nineties, a study done in Ireland connected an international team of exchange students who weren’t even all on the same continent, and teamed them up in a simulation-like game. They were supposed to agree on big decisions together and solve complex problems while competing against other teams. They were given the opportunity to practice real-life problems and situations in a safe environment –  something that’s called a “micro-world” [1].

And guess what happened?

They were able to develop decision-making, problem-solving, and teamwork skills while working across continents [1]. Through applied learning, or project-based learning, these students practiced incredibly important skills in a purposeful way – not just for learning itself, but for an actual outcome [1]. What’s more, they were more motivated to work, as the more they worked, the more they learned and the better results they were able to see! And they were able to learn much more since this kind of approach promoted further learning and was more interesting for them [1].

Both the organizers and the students in the simulation agreed that overcoming any technical difficulties was well worth the end result [1]. (And now in  2018, we don’t even need to worry about the technical issues so much!) As it turns out, this simulation (and such simulations and games in general) can predict the future success of a student very well [1].

Communication

According to Forbes, communication is one of the most important skills every Millennial should be able to use effectively in the workplace [5]. Communicating can be hard, especially if there’s a difference in opinion. You might ask yourself: How do I give proper feedback? How do I learn not to take things personally, but understand them as a way to better myself? This is a skill that, like any other skill, needs honing. And what better place to do that than as part of an international team? International team members will likely have completely different opinions, given that they all live in different environments.

If you have a good manager/facilitator, an international team can give you an enormous advantage when it comes to handling conflict, or communicating in general. If you practice and learn how to communicate with people from other parts of the globe, chances are that solving a conflict with your coworker who lives just down the street will be a piece of cake [3].

Understanding of Other Cultures

Our world is ever-changing and ever more connected. Anywhere you go, you can see people from other cultures working, living, or simply visiting. Being a part of an international team is an invaluable experience for anyone seeking to understand these cultures better. You’ll be able to hear first-hand about their thoughts, ideas, and way of life.

If you decide later on in life to go to another country or even a different continent to pursue your passion (or adventurous spirit!), you’ll find it much easier to adapt if you’ve already been in contact with more than just one culture [3]. And that’s especially important if you’re required to fit into the office culture of another place – the expectations, the social mores, the work ethic. You’ll be much more attuned to  all of these or at least more capable of learning quickly if you’ve already experienced something similar.

Offline Time

As we already mentioned, a digital team means you won’t be forced to be at your desk every day at 9:00 a.m. sharp and remain there for the next eight hours – yay! Instead, you’ll mostly get to work on your own time, and given that your team members may live in different timezones, they won’t be able to give you an answer as soon as you post something [2]. This means that you’ll get some offline time instead of checking your phone for messages every two minutes, and you’ll be allowed to work whenever you feel like it. Are you a night owl? Great news: you won’t have to start fueling yourself with coffee as soon as you get up!

Learning to Think Quickly

Entering a virtual room of people whose customs you’re not very familiar with is anything but comfortable. It’s exciting, sure – but it’s stressful to a certain degree, as well. What you’ll need to work on in order to succeed in such a new environment is becoming adept at picking  up social cues quickly. If you learn how to “read a (chat)room” [3] as soon as you enter it – voila! – you’ll become a much better team member and much more productive, and you’ll start feeling more and more comfortable with each new meeting or in any similar situation.

Future Employment

All of the above benefits will also help you get to this step –  the final, tangible benefit of landing a job [3]. But besides charming your future employer with your soft skills and a resume that says you have experience working in an international team, that same team will likely offer you a great chance to network.

Imagine you’re applying for a job in Norway, and it just so happens that one of your ex-coworkers is Norwegian! You can, for example, ask them about what is usually expected of the applicants for such a position. And even if you’re not actually applying, but simply thinking of finding a job there, why not ask them if they know anyone in that field? They’ll have no trouble recommending such a talented, versatile young person as yourself.

If this article has piqued your interest in becoming part of a digital international team, take a look at nobelexplorers.com and all the projects we offer. You may well find something you like!

References:

  1. Doyle, D., & Brown, F.W. (2000). Using a Business Simulation to Teach Applied Skills – the Benefits and the Challenges of Using Student Teams from Multiple Countries. Journal of European Industrial Training, 330-336
  2. https://medium.com/@Cityholic/advantages-of-working-in-a-global-team-780d5d10f277
  3. https://www.theinterngroup.com/our-blog/7-benefits-of-working-abroad/
  4. https://www.bmmagazine.co.uk/opinion/go-global-the-benefits-of-an-international-team/
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/katehayes/2017/09/05/the-soft-skills-that-matter-most-in-the-workplace/#618cdafd6c2e

 

Conflict Can Be Good

What do you think of when you hear the word conflict?

Fighting? War?

Anger? Frustration?

Many people view conflict as bad, negative, and tend to avoid it. They believe that conflicts lead to “ugly” feelings, mistrust, damage to relationships, etc [1, 3]. True, there are indeed many possible negative consequences. Given this, can conflict be good? As with almost anything, conflict has advantages and disadvantages. So, the answer is yes – conflict can be good!

Conflict has the capacity not only to cause harm and pain, but also to create a positive change for us [1, 3]. A possible reason for its bad reputation is that conflicts are often poorly managed and handled in painful ways. Under appropriate conditions, conflict can provide important benefits.

10 Benefits of conflict

So, what are these beneficial effects? Here’s some of the advantages that well-managed conflict might include [1, 2, 3, 4]:

  1. Conflicts focus attention on problems that need to be solved, but which have previously been ignored or neglected.
  2. Creation of energy, focus, and the motivation needed for solving problems.
  3. Released negative emotions (anger, tension, anxiety, sadness…) and better control of emotions.
  4. Conflicts may prevent disagreement from becoming more intense or damaging.
  5. Enhanced quality of many decisions– the critique of someone’s ideas by others encourages a more thorough evaluation of them.
  6. Also, discussion of incompatible ideas may result in adoption of a more open-minded approach to issues and problems.
  7. Facilitation of understanding of other people’s perspectives on the problems.
  8. Increased closeness with each other and relationships clear of irritations. If the conflict is among groups, it leads to increased loyalty and cohesiveness. This further results in enhanced performance and productivity.
  9. Stimulation of curiosity, interest, and information search. Conflicts also encourage the consideration of new ideas and approaches and leads to facilitation of innovation and change.
  10. Growth– conflicts may promote cognitive, social, and moral development.

Conflict and emotions

So, under what conditions can conflict be beneficial? Let’s start with emotions. Conflict often creates the arousal of powerful negative emotions: anger, frustration, suspicion, etc. Also, it can cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to loss of sleep, decrease in productivity, and failure to be innovative or creative [2, 4].

At the same time, conflict situations often require the careful processing of complex information such as the opponents’ motives and intentions, their strategy, and the impact of their moves. This means that in order to solve the conflict constructively, you need to put in a great deal of cognitive effort. However, the likelihood of effective completion of these cognitive tasks is significantly reduced by the presence of powerful emotions [4]. So, what can we do about that?


A great way to master your skills in managing conflicts and making them constructive is to participate in Nobel Explorers, the first international STEM camp that focuses on soft skills as much as on the hard skills. In Nobel Explorers, we are aware of how powerful conflict can be and how important it is in negotiation. That’s why participants of all our projects work hard on mastering their conflict resolution skills with the help of our soft skills facilitators. And they earn cool badges like these below while doing that, so it is also fun!

Soft Skill Badge awarded to those who are able to identify if it's necessary to cool off or address the difference in opinion right awaySoft Skill Badge awarded to those are able to identify the point and nature of contention for participants in the conflict Soft Skill Badge awarded to those who are able to confirm with the other party if there is really a difference in opinion


How to deal with negative emotions

How can we maximize the probability that conflict will produce positive outcomes? In order for conflict to have benefits, it’s important either to avoid the arousal of negative emotions or to take active steps to reduce their presence [1].

Two foxes charging at each other.

It doesn’t have to look like this!

 

We can avoid arousal of strong feelings of anger and related emotions. That can be done in two ways:

  • Putting effort into inducing participants in the conflict to focus on the potential gains that may be obtained from a favorable resolution. In other words, try hard to show the participant(s) in conflict the advantages of choosing the resolution you think is best.
  • Providing participants with information as to why an opponent has adopted a particular stance. Here, you don’t need a third party – you can enumerate for the opponent arguments for the position you represent. This way, their reactions may be considerably more favorable and less emotional.

In many situations, it’s impossible to prevent the arousal of negative emotions among the persons in conflict. In such cases, there are two steps that can reduce such reactions:

  • Induction of positive affective states that are incompatible with anger or frustration. You can’t be happy and angry at the same time, right?
  • Exposing persons in a conflict situation to mild flattery, a small gift, etc. For example, lower your voice and tell them how good they are at managing conflict.

Now when you know how to handle negative emotions in conflicts, there’s one more thing –practice! The more you practice, the better you will be.

But why is this so important?

Conflict is inevitable

The reality is that conflict is part of all our relationships – at home, at school, at work… This being the case, it’s best to accept its inevitability, understand that it isn’t necessarily bad, and to practice managing it.


Other than learning how to handle differences in opinion, in Nobel Explorers you will also be able to practice a very cool skill that will help you turn every conflict into a constructive one and find a win-win solution for it.

Remember, The World Economic Forum listed soft skills as the skills you’ll need to thrive in the future since a lot of the jobs will be automated and taken by AI. One of those skills is negotiation and it has a lot to do with managing conflict! So, sign up for Nobel Explorers and master your future-ready skills!


Resources:

[1] Baron, R. A. (1991). Positive effects of conflict: A cognitive perspective. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal,4(1), 25-36. doi:10.1007/bf01390436

[2] Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2013). Joining together: Group theory and group skills (12th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

[3] Rebroadcast: Discussing Conflict With Clair Canfield On Monday’s Access Utah [Audio blog interview]. (2016, December 6). Retrieved July 20, 2018, from http://www.upr.org/post/rebroadcast-discussing-conflict-clair-canfield-mondays-access-utah

[4] Zillmann, D. (1979). Hostility and Aggression. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Using AI in Learning and Education

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is something we frequently use in our daily lives, often without being aware of it. Have you ever heard of Akinator, for example? It’s an online game featuring a magic genie. He will ask you to think of a character – any character – and through a series of questions, he’ll try to guess who the character is. It ’s like playing 20 questions, only with your computer. Well, Akinator is an AI software: it decides which questions to ask based on your previous answers by imitating the human thought process. This game and many others use near-human intelligence in order to predict and answer your thoughts.

Therefore, AI can be defined as the branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers. In other words, the goal of developing AI is to create computer systems that can perform tasks that require human intelligence.

Still, when we think of artificial intelligence, most of us tend to think Terminator or Westworld. But in reality, we’re surrounded by AI without really knowing it, because an AI doesn’t need to be a robot – it can simply be a software.

The good news is, we’ve been working on AI’s to aid us in education ever since the 1970s, when Dr. Allan M. Collins created SCHOLAR CAI (Computer-Assisted Instruction). Let’s take a look at how AI’s can be helpful in education and check out some already existing examples.

Tutoring Assistance

Now hold on for a second – this doesn’t mean that your English teacher might turn out to be C3PO! AI’s can be a great help when it comes to tutoring, but they can hardly replace teachers completely. There are a couple of ICAI’s (Intelligent Computer-Assisted Instruction) out there, but none of them have been able to master natural language and tutoring techniques completely.

However, they do possess expert knowledge in a certain area and are equipped with the ability to implement that knowledge in certain problem-solving situations, giving students an excellent chance to practice their school materials outside the classroom.

Among AI’s, there are experts for mathematics, geography, physics, etc., – and all of them can be very helpful to a student who’s struggling with one of these subjects. Such systems can detect (some better than others) what the student’s misconceptions are and through questions and tasks, it can work on solving them. For example, there’s an AI called BUGGY. BUGGY is able to identify student misconceptions when it comes to arithmetic; in other words, it can find bugs in the code of our arithmetic knowledge.

Student-Initiated Learning

Besides tutoring a child directly, ICAI’s can also provide a positive learning environment which allows the child to learn by themselves, usually through solving problems and playing games. The most famous example (and probably the most famous ICAI to date) is Papert’s LOGO. This system guides the child to learn spontaneously, much like we do while learning to walk or talk. LOGO is based on two ideas: 1) That learning something completely new can only be done based on already existing knowledge, and 2) That the learner learns best if they make the ideas their own by understanding and applying concepts, instead of learning them by rote memorization.

LOGO lets the user create programs and simulations in a lot of different areas: they can write poetry, make movies, learn geometry… But nothing is simply handed to them on a silver platter. They have all the necessary tools and guidance, but they need to make their own simulations based on their own way of understanding the material.

When talking about SIL (Student-Initiated Learning), it’s important to mention SOPHIE as well. SOPHIE acts as a guide to solving problems related to electronic equipment. The student is presented with a problem, after which they try to solve it by asking questions and making hypotheses. After they’ve formed the hypotheses, SOPHIE helps them to test it out and, if necessary, debug it.

Helping out with Administrative Tasks

This already makes a lot of professors’ lives easier! There already exist some ICAI’s which are being used to evaluate tests and grade them – automatically. However, ICAI’s are also being developed to grade essays. We’ll probably have to wait a little bit longer on those, but just imagine the amount of extra time it’ll give teachers! It would mean that they’d have more time to prepare material for the next class and that they’d get to use more of their energy to motivate students, instead of downing coffee after coffee while reading hundreds of pages written by their students.

Diagnosis of Learning Challenges

This is one of the most exciting areas when it comes to AI’s. Besides having to teach, grade, and motivate students, teachers sometimes have to help diagnose their students’ learning challenges as well – and that can turn out to be a long and complicated process. Although teachers need to possess a certain knowledge of psychology, that knowledge does not make them a psychologist! It means that they still need to bring in an expert to help, and getting to them can take a lot of time.

But with an ICAI, the whole process could go a lot more smoothly. An AI would be able to ask a series of questions and based on student’s answers, either determine which difficulty is creating the problem (dyslexia, ADHD, etc.) or tell the educator to call for an expert, if it cannot determine it by itself. Alternatively, the AI could be able to call the expert themselves, which means that the educator would only need to supervise the whole process. This could be useful when the educator is overwhelmed with tasks – it’s better to employ an AI to do it quickly and precisely, rather than make a mistake somewhere along the line due to rushing to all the other tasks/students they need to evaluate. With the help of an AI that asks the right questions and comes to the right conclusions, teachers will be able to help out their students much faster and with much more precision.

 

Remember, behind every AI, there was a team of people developing the science and technology used. Check out Nobel Explorers to see how you can learn and practice many STEM-related concepts that could continue improving upon artificial intelligence.