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Leveraging Conflict Resolution Skills

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Conflict resolution skills are essential for every youth worker. Youth work is about human relationships and, being human, we are certain to find ourselves in conflict with the young people we sincerely want to support.

Conflict is neither inherently bad nor good, but it is inevitable. Conflict has existed since civilization began. It’s not going away and young people will test your ability to handle it.

Without sufficient conflict resolution skills, your risk of burnout in this field is more likely. Highly effective youth workers learn to use conflict as a means for personal growth and for the benefit of the young people they work with.

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      The positive effects of conflict resolution in youth work

      When handled correctly, conflict helps you develop:

      • Understanding – conflict brings about a broad range of issues that help you better understand the young person and their situation.
      • Clarity – conflict will shine a light on your assumptions of a young person and provide direction on how to best support them.
      • Trust – when you are able to positively resolve conflict with young people, they learn that you can be trusted – the ultimate goal of any young work.

      Of course, conflict is not all good. If handled improperly, it could cause a young person to see you as untrustworthy, authoritarian, or punitive. To be sure, how you handle conflict will make or break your relationships with youth.

      It’s important for you to recognize your conflict management style

      As youth workers, we need to be aware that the conflict resolution skills we rely on in our personal lives may be inadequate for handling conflict with and among the youth we work with. Here are common ways we all deal with conflict:

      • Avoiding the Conflict - By avoiding the conflict, you essentially pretend that it never happened or doesn’t exist.
      • Giving In - Basically, you agree to accommodate the other person by acknowledging and accepting their point of view or suggestion.
      • Standing Your Ground – With this approach, you are essentially competing with the other person; you’ll do anything to ensure that you win the battle.
      • Compromising - You agree to negotiate on the larger points and let go of the smaller points; this style expedites the resolution process.
      • Collaborating – This occurs when you listen to the other person’s perspective to understand their needs and values, discuss areas of agreement and goals, and ensure that everyone involved understands each other.

      All of these strategies may be appropriate in a given situation. In youth work, the ultimate goal of conflict resolution is to find a win-win in as many situations as possible to strengthen your relationship with them.

      Youth workers need to be committed to improving their skills

      There is no end point in this area of skill development. There will never be a day when you don’t need to learn more about conflict resolution. It requires constant self-analysis, new skills development, and practice.

      A good place to start is to take the Conflict Resolution Toolkit training offered via The Professional Youth Worker. This training will help you in your daily work with young people and in your personal life too. It is free to YIPA members.

      Many youth workers enter the field to help provide a positive future for our youth. As a group, we tend to find harmony in our lives and we hope to embody that in our work.

      If you are not yet proficient in handling conflict, it is up to you to develop your knowledge, skills, and confidence in conflict resolution. Our youth are counting on you to use and role model this life skill to help them grow.

      About the author

      Paul Meunier is the executive director of the Youth Intervention Programs Association (YIPA), a non-profit association of youth-serving organizations. We're your source for exceptional, affordable, personal and professional online learning via The Professional Youth Worker.  Join us!

      To ask Paul a question or share your feedback about this blog, email paul@yipa.org.

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