“I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school. I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.” Random girl in ‘Mean Girls’ who “doesn’t even go here!”
College is the time of your life. We’ve all seen the movies that are set on a beautiful college campus. The grass is that perfect shade of green. Students are walking by on the sidewalk with friends, holding a light load of books on their way to class while others are relaxing on blankets in the quad or tossing a frisbee nearby. All smiles, of course. After all, they’re in college.
As a resident director at a university, I meet a lot of incoming freshmen while they are touring dorms with their families. Typically wide-eyed and bushy-tailed with no idea of what’s coming their way.
While the college scenery may look similar to that of the movies, it will rarely be all smiles all the time. I realize that may sound very Debbie-downer. But there is one word that can often completely derail a student’s opportunity to get the most out of their college experience. It’s a word that most people want to avoid, never say, never acknowledge.
Just kidding. It’s “conflict.”
No one likes conflict right? Can’t we just bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and all get along and be happy?
If only it were possible. However, much like Dumbledore encouraged people to use the proper name ‘Voldemort’ so they wouldn’t fear it, talking about conflict in a healthy and honest way can help us not fear it, but see it as an opportunity for growth.
Poor Communication + Assumptions = Conflict
Let’s face reality and take a closer look at college. For many, going to college means moving away from home for the first time, new friends, new roommate, new classmates, new church, new job, new gym, new restaurants. The list goes on and on. But there is a common denominator for most of these new things. People.
College will bring lots of new people in your life. It can be tricky learning how to communicate with people and how they communicate with you but this is vital to handling conflict. When people don’t communicate effectively, assumptions step in and communicate for them. Right or wrong. Enter conflict.
It’s safe to say that most of us probably don’t handle conflict in a very healthy manner. Some pretty classic efforts at unhealthy conflict management would be:
- Avoidance/Denial – just ignore the problem and it will go away.
- Forcing – I will win this argument no matter what.
- Accommodating/Giving up – I will give in and do whatever it takes to end this conflict.
How we view conflict will generally determine how we handle it. If you feel as though conflict is a ravenous animal trying to devour your every ounce of remaining happiness and sanity, you will likely scratch and claw your way into one of those three unhealthy coping strategies listed above.
However, if you were to view conflict as a hopeful opportunity for growth (as you should), you might choose some of these healthier and more productive ways to process and work through conflict.
First and foremost, be intentional in talking through the issue very carefully and clearly. Be open and honest about your feelings while using “I” statements rather than “you” statements. This tells someone how you are feeling instead of accusing them of something.
For example, “I feel disrespected by you when you leave your dishes in the sink” rather than “You never clean up your messes!” Confront the problem, not the person.
Don’t just hear what the other person is saying while you are formulating your perfectly eloquent response. Actively listen. Try to understand what they really mean and feel. Ask them questions that show you are interested and want to understand. This will encourage and validate them, whether you agree with them or not. Restating their perspective can help clear up miscommunications. Simply displaying a willingness to listen can help alleviate conflict.
Conflict is generally two-sided. Be willing to take responsibility for your own part. This may better enable the other person to accept theirs. Convey the value of the relationship to the other person and try to work towards an agreeable solution.
Conflict is often a result of poor communication and assumptions. An honest conversation and a heart to listen and understand goes a long way in solving so many things.
We won’t always fix everything. Sometimes conflict ends in a handshake rather than a hug, and that’s okay. Conflict is part of life and you should expect it to be part of your college experience. Don’t be shocked. Don’t let it paralyze you in anxiety. Don’t duck and run like so many tend to do. Handling conflict in a healthy manner can help you embrace the opportunities for growth that it can bring. Do the work. It’s well worth it.At UMHB, we want you to receive an education for life, but also have the experience of a lifetime! For more information, we invite you to visit our website, or stop by for a visit!