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K-State Today

July 5, 2011

Finding harmony: Conflict resolution and mediation programs growing rapidly

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

A little more than a year ago Kansas State University students seeking a minor that would help strengthen their conflict resolution and mediation skills in their professional and personal lives ran into a big conflict of their own -- there wasn't one.


Today, however, the new minor is packed to the brim and shows no signs of slowing down.


Terrie McCants, instructor and program co-coordinator for K-State's conflict analysis and trauma studies minor, said in the two semesters the new minor has been offered many of its courses have reached enrollment capacity and have had waiting lists.


"You know you've filled a void when you open the door and there's a line," McCants said. "It's relevant -- everyone has been in a situation where they have encountered conflict -- and we're not prepared in our culture to deal with it effectively."


Briana Nelson Goff, professor of family studies and human services and co-coordinator of the minor, brings in the trauma components of the program.


The minor also has been quite popular because all courses are offered both on campus and online, McCants said. In fact, the Foundations of Trauma course was originally going to be offered in the fall, but high student interest led to the course being offered in the spring and summer.


The conflict analysis and trauma studies minor, also known as CATS, is the only academic program in the nation that combines the areas of conflict analysis and trauma studies, according to McCants. Conflict resolution programs are primarily combined with peace and conflict studies, she said, while trauma studies programs are predominately in mental health programs.


"You can analyze conflict and deal with it, but there's often this unsettling residual -- that's the leftover trauma and uncompleted healing," McCants said.

Students petitioned for more conflict resolution classes, and they also worked with program administrators to create the minor, which was launched last year, McCants said.


Now there are as many students enrolled in the 18-credit hour minor as there are in the college's 12-credit hour undergraduate conflict resolution certificate program, which has been available since 2006. K-State's School of Family Studies and Human Services also offers a 12-credit hour graduate certificate in conflict resolution, and all of the trauma courses for the minor have also been developed for the graduate level.


The certificate programs are not simply running in place as the minor takes off, however. McCants said the programs, both of which provide introductory training in conflict resolution in the workplace or personal life -- as well as state-approved courses for mediation -- have recently added a focus on conflict coaching or mediation for one.


"Normally you have two or more people at the mediation table, but if you're in a particularly troublesome conflict, maybe the other person won't talk with you or go into mediation," said McCants, who is also the certificate program coordinator. "You can tolerate the conflict, go into therapy, get angrier -- or you can work with a conflict coach who can help you shift unhelpful reactions to conflict to constructive responses."


Conflict coaches are individuals who have been trained in conflict resolution and who help clients improve their language and communication skills and develop strategies to constructively and productively engage in conflict, she said.


"You can get into this negative spin cycle during a conflict," McCants said. "Mediation for one allows an opportunity to assess your own contributions and the choice of changing habitual behaviors that contribute to conflict. Conflict resolution is about creating choices and choosing alternative behaviors for better solutions and outcomes."


McCants said that although the first phase of conflict coaching training began in October 2009 with senior administrators, deans and department heads, the program recently expanded its training to K-State housing and dining services' senior staff, resident assistants and residence life coordinators. McCants also talks about conflict coaching in courses in the certificate programs, and she said students in the minor are exposed to the concept as well.


The goal of conflict coaching is to raise an individual's conflict competencies to help resolve current and future conflicts.


"Sometimes you can't get everyone in the room to talk it out and come to terms," McCants said. "Conflict coaching may have an impact in transforming how people deal with conflict."


The program's staff is working on integrating conflict coaching into the bigger conflict resolution picture at K-State. McCants said she expects both the conflict analysis and trauma studies minor and conflict resolution certificate programs to continue to grow.

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