Part 1 of 4
In Interpersonal Conflict, my all-time favorite course to teach, there is an assignment that often strikes fear in the hearts of my students. I try not to relish their fear too much.
These are adult students whose ages typically range from 30-60, all studying for a master’s degree in mediation and applied conflict studies. I announce the assignment on the first day of class and it’s due on the last day. In the classes in between, there are frequent questions about the assignment, worries expressed, support and coaching sought.
I once had a student who refused to do the assignment outright. For a while. He came around and completed it with gusto. I’ve had several who’ve told me that they didn’t think they’d be able to do the assignment because it didn’t really apply to them. Their thinking changed too, as the term unfolded.
The assignment is this: They must have a difficult conversation about a matter that’s important to them, ideally with someone who’s also important to them. It may be a conversation they’ve been avoiding. Or it may be one they’ve had many times and it’s come out poorly. Or it may be one that came out of left field and they suddenly found themselves in a difficult conversation they hadn’t anticipated.
Between the time they learn of the assignment and the time they have to do it, my job is to help them consider the complexities that go into such conversations and prepare for the undertaking. Then I have the pleasure of sitting back and listening to what they learned and, in turn, learning from them.
Last week, after my current group of amazingly talented students reported on their difficult conversations, I asked them a few questions and told them I’d be blogging about their replies. And so I will be.