Communication and conflict management at the HU's Humboldt Graduate School

Julie-Anne Gabelich (HU)

Published 27 April 2018


The Humboldt Graduate School organizes a number of workshops for students who are interested in self-development on the side of their projects. One such workshop was Communication and Time Management offered by Mark Edwards. I signed up thinking it might be nice to gain some structure in how I form my arguments in order to better address, or prevent, conflict in both my personal and professional life. More importantly, however, I had the motivation to develop this standardization of argument because I’ve noticed unfair situations that can arise when dealing with conflict with a person I respect versus a person I do not respect. In our professional lives, regardless of personal opinions, we must act constructively to move forward. In the interest of working most efficiently with everyone in my life, my hope was that the course could help me regulate my interactions.


The workshop took place on 25 April 2018 in the Humboldt Graduate School building. We had 12 participants from various graduate programs, and I was happy to notice that I recognized some ZIBI students that I met during the annual ZIBI retreat earlier this April. Mark did a good job of making the effort to learn all our names from the beginning, and his cheerful yet not overbearing attitude put most of the students at ease. He distributed pamphlets that contained supporting information, though his lecture style was very free flowing, making use of marker and paper when necessary, but otherwise communicating with us directly. This style of speaking felt less like lecturing and more like conversational interaction.


Overall, we covered topics regarding basic communication, especially the importance of preparing one’s argument in the light of understanding the opposite party’s intention within the context of the conflict. Ultimately, most conflicts arise out of a combination of miscommunication and a misalignment of bottom-line objectives. Most of the topics covered, in the end, were things that could be considered common sense when considering how people on a human level interact, but put together in a cohesive story, the tidbits of common sense seemed to be more of a revelation. Simple things such as rephrasing grievances in terms of self-reflecting language rather than making it the other person’s fault (for example, I feel uncomfortable when you interrupt me vs you always interrupt me), making a distinction between fact and misperception, and finding the right moment to address issues all contribute to a more solid approach to addressing conflict.


While most of the above information was something to be expected from such a course, what was actually quite unexpected was the emotional component that we encountered. We had a rather thoughtful discussion about how our attitudes affect how we handle conflicts in the way that our attitude affects our perception of what people mean when we interact, and this in turn will have a rippling effect on our interpretation of an interaction and also our subsequent responses. So in order to best handle conflict, or even avoid it all together, is to work on our mental attitude about ourselves. And I am indeed speaking about our overall self esteem and how we value ourselves. For example, if you are struggling in your PhD and generally feel like a failure, a very simple projection of this feeling onto a rather benign comment made by a supervisor could cause a misperception that creates a conflict where one does not exist. To this end, Mark really encouraged the use of positive affirmation in order to retrain our brains to replace automatic self-negative thoughts with the positive counter part, regardless of cognitive dissonance or feeling like a fool smiling in the mirror in the morning feeding yourself what must be ‘lies’. What ended up being emotional was his insistence that we are NOT failures, we are NOT the summation of our (sometimes nonexistent) results, and we ARE valuable contributions to the world. Many members of the course, myself included, admitted as much that we find ourselves in these negative spirals of self degradation. For someone to come along and provide the support the small child in us all desperately needs definitely defied the expectations we had walking into that room.


In conclusion, the workshop was not only helpful, but more than I signed up for. I learned that in order to successfully manage a conflict, one must really consider all aspects of communication, and this involves clearly articulating what one perceives the problem to be, what it is they want, address the points of view the other person could be coming from, carefully structuring the language in which we approach a person, and treating them as someone whose point of view is worthy of respect, even if not in accordance with your own thoughts or desires.