My interview was with the administrative aide of the Facilities Managers of New York University’s Housing and Maintenance Department. New York University is an educational institution, housing nearly ten thousand students from all over the world. Though the university is large, Ms. Joanne Casole’s* department is rather small, employing roughly fifteen to twenty people. Yet the size of this department does not directly correlate with the financial status being that the departments manages a budget of over five million dollars every day. Ms.
Casole’s duties include overseeing student workers in their daily administrative tasks and assisting mangers in maintaining dormitories throughout the university. Joanne has been working for the university for over four years. She started out as a student worker over eight years ago and was promoted within the department to her current position. In her management role, she supervises one male, and two female students who are all at least a generation younger than her. The racial composition would include two Philipino’s, Joanne being half, and the male student worker being full, and two Caucasian females.
Because this is an interview dealing with conflict management, specifications about age, race and other individual traits are extremely imperative in dissecting and analyzing disagreements and arguments. Being aware of individual traits and the relationship that exists between two people engaged in a conflict is important because as the book Conflict Management: A Communication Skills Approach points out, “These two factors affect both the development and the course of the dispute, for it is in the relationship, not within the individual, that the conflict resides”(Borisoff 6).
However, just looking at the age and race of individuals involved in a conflict leaves a great void in the understanding of the nature of conflict as a whole. Looking further into the individual traits of the interviewee, I asked Joanne what she considered to be her attitude toward conflict. She related to me that she is relatively passive in her conflict style and that she typically avoids conflict at all times. She did relay, however, that it depended on the situation, and that if it were a question of her morals, she would be more apt to deal with conflicts aggressively.
The book validates Joanne’s actions when it discusses conflicts arising out of diverging beliefs and attitudes. When people are in conflict, “the more a person feels that personal identity and basic values are compromised, the more likely a conflict will ensue and the more difficult it becomes to resolve such differences”(Borisoff 7). After hearing her discuss her own conflict style I would say that in more technical terms, she is low in assertiveness, and high in cooperation, or as the book describes, “Accomodating”(9).
When asked what kinds of conflicts she usually faces, Joanne explained that it is normally with peers or people under than her that she finds her self in conflict with. She said that it is usually misunderstandings or lack of communication that causes her conflicts. She gave the example of a student worker not being clear about her tardiness and forgetting to inform her when they would be out of work. With regards to company policy on conflict, Ms. Casole informed me that she was unaware of any such policy and that she usually just adhered to her own moral judgment and that the company policy most likely coincided with her beliefs.
In assessing conflict, there is a five-step process one can undertake to thoroughly examine the context of the communication environment. One must first, as I’ve mentioned before, consider the participants engaged in conflict and their relationship towards each other. They also need to identify the problem and the communication climate in which these issues are expressed. Only after these first assessments can one determine one of the five conflict styles. As I mentioned before, Joanne’s conflict style is accommodating.
The second step is referred to as acknowledgment, which is the ability to see and understand both sides of the argument. A conflict cannot be resolved if both sides aren’t clearly articulated and comprehended. And as the book points out when discussing acknowledgement, “The ability to manage differences productively is greatly impeded if individuals lack fundamental information about each side’s perspectives regarding issues of contention”(29). The third step in the five-step model is labeled “Attitude,” which basically explains that lines of communication have to be open and non-hostile to have any chance of solving a problem.