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We can work it out: resolving staff conflicts.

Sue and Chris are co-counselors in a cabin of 10to 12-year-olds. Whenever the campers act out Chris seems to disappear and Sue is the one who ends up disciplining them. Sue does not like "being the bad guy," and is getting angry at Chris for not sharing her load of the discipline situations. Sue makes several aside remarks about the problem, but Chris pretends not to understand. Finally, Sue blows up at Chris.

Incidents like the one described above are as common at camp as mosquitoes and flies. Sometimes the "just stay away from each other" technique is applied, which offers at least a temporary "cease fire." On other occasions, the camp director may try the "you are going to do exactly as I tell you" technique, which may for a time also result in the appearance of peace.

Most camp staff members would agree, however, that given the intimacy of camp life, staff conflicts are bound to arise. The best method for dealing with conflicts would be one which results not only in a satisfactory solution for both parties, but also in a solution that improves relationships and fosters a positive work environment. Such a method does exist! It is known as conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution refers to the process of resolving disagreements with the use of specific conflict resolution skills (Community Board, 1987). Required is the ability to express emotions clearly, define problems specifically, listen reflectively, and brainstorm creatively (Koch, 1992). These basic skills are set into a step-by-step framework for addressing the problem.

Depending upon the situation, the skills of the disputants and the seriousness of the problem, the two individuals may work to solve their own problem (negotiation), or they may ask someone else to serve as a conflict manager (mediation). Whatever technique is used, the goal of conflict resolution is to create a win-win solution ([locker & Wilmot, 1991 ).

The common causes of inter-staff conflicts and the basic skills needed for resolving conflicts in a mutually satisfactory manner are subjects all camp staff should explore. Such effort can go a long way toward making the camp environment more peaceful and enriching for everyone ! Causes of Conflict in the Camp Setting

What do staff members disagree about? Just like people working in other settings, camp staffers have conflicts over resources; conflicts concerning individual psychological needs; and occasionally, conflicts involving values.

Conflict over a resource could be genuine (like the amount of Elmer's glue in a bottle) or it might be perceived (like the supply of affection available from one individua D. Whether real or perceived, it is the possibility of scarcity that is a basic cause of resource conflict CKeefe & Roberts, 1991).

Conflicts over psychological needs, like the need for security and the need to be valued, are often more difficult to identify, because they may show themselves first as an angry reaction to a seemingly incidental event. For example, Jennifer, a member of the grounds crew, may flatly refuse to loan David a hose to wash off the ski equipment because she fears he may not return it. In reality, however, Jennifer feels hurt that David treats her tike an inferior, because in his view she is a lower class worker.

Every camp employee brings closely held beliefs or values to a position. While most camp directors attempt to hire employees who value "a day's work for a day's pay," additional values that may vary are those related to good health, honesty, loyalty, and religious beliefs. Conflicts over values are the most difficult to resolve. Where values are concerned, the resolution simply may be increased understanding of the other's point of view and an agreement to "live and let live."

It is important to remember that conflicts in camp affect people at all places within the organization; office staff, grounds keepers, kitchen staff, counselors, health staff, security, administrative staff, and, of course, campers. The same basic conflict resolution skills and techniques are effective with all members of the camp family.

Basic Skills for Conflict Resolution

Many camp employees, by virtue of their orientation toward helping others, already possess the basic skills for effective conflict resolution and need only nurture those skills and apply them within the framework of the conflict resolution process (see Table 1). Nurturing the basic skills means consistently making a conscious effort to state feelings and perceptions honestly and clearly, to listen actively and reflectively, and to be willing to generate and consider several possible solutions to interpersonal problems.

Clarification of Feelings. A simple method for stating feelings is to use the I message. The I message used in both negotiation and mediation processes is a four part statement: I feel___, when___, because___, and I would like___. In the case of Sue and Chris and their discipline situation, Sue might say to Chris, "I feel angry and alone when you don't take part in the discipline of campers because all of the responsibility is on me and the campers are beginning to hate me. I would like you to share the disciplining with me equally."

The I message provides an effective framework for communication because it identifies feelings and links them to the specific problem. Often, when two individuals exchange I messages, it is the first genuine exchange of information regarding the conflict. It is sometimes difficult to use an I message because there are cultural limitations where feelings are concerned. Talking about feelings, however, is essential because learning how others feel helps to generate empathy and reveals the depth of the other's concern.

Active Listening. John powell, a renowned theologian and author once said, "Listening is a search to findthe treasure of the true person..." (1974). If a conflict is to be understood and resolved, the disputants must listen actively and reflectively to each other. Standard techniques of good listening are: paying close attention to what is being said, asking the other party to clarify and say more about any detail that is not clearly understood, and restating what was just heard (Fisher & Ury, 1991).

In the case of Sue and Chris, for example, after listening carefully, Chris might say, "Let me see if I follow what you are telling me. From your point of view things look like this..." Showing someone that you understand what they have said does not mean you agree with them, it simply means you understand what they have expressed. Using attentive body language and eye contact are also important ways to show that the speaker has your full attention.

Solution Finding. Being willing to generate and consider several possible solutions to a conflict is the final basic skill of conflict resolution. This openness relies on the premise that there are actually many possible solutions to any given problem, each with its attendant consequences. Within the process of conflict resolution, solution finding is a matter of identifying what contributions each disputant can make to resolving the problem, evaluating those possible actions in light of their practicality and consequences, and reaching agreement regarding what will be done.

An elegant solution (Bolton, 1979) is one that is acceptable to both parties, states exactly what will happen and when, and requires some contribution to the solution from both disputants. An example of an elegant solution in the case of Sue and Chris might be if Sue and Chris agree to alternate the discipline of campers so that they each have responsibility for discipline every other day, or every other instance whenever they are together.

The Negotiation Process

Although it is almost always best for two individuals to resolve their own conflicts, there are many occasions when the use of a mediator is the best choice for finding the elegant solution. Mediation is an extension of the negotiation process. The role of the mediator is to "facilitate the parties to the dispute to reach an agreement themselves" (Keltner, 1983).

In the camp setting, a mediator can be helpful when one disputant feels the other person involved in the dispute is in a more powerful position. Although this power discrepancy (which may be related to size, age, sex, personality, seniority, etc.) may be more perceived than real, it is a limiting factor in face-to-face negotiation. The presence of a mediator may also be helpful when the conflict is a long-standing one, when past efforts to negotiate have failed, or when one of the two disputants seems reluctant to engage in negotiation, for whatever reason.

There are several possibilities for who on the camp staff could serve as a mediator. Most camp directors have found themselves, willingly or unwillingly, playing the mediator role. This could be problematic, given that the mediator should not have authoritative power and is charged with remaining neutral. Yet many of the same skills that make a good director also make an effective mediator.

An alternative might be to ask another employee who has exhibited good conflict management skills (see Table 2) to serve as a volunteer mediator. Note that camp mediators need not be camp counselors! The mediator could just as well be a member of the kitchen staff or maintenance crew.

The mediation process is simply a matter of providing guidance for and management of the negotiation process already described. In some cases, the mediator might be the only person involved in the conflict management who is familiar with the process. In that case the manager begins by explaining how the process works and expressing appreciation to both disputants for being willing to work out the problem. Establishing ground rules (a matter of good manners) for the mediation meeting is also important. Participants need to agree not to interrupt each other, to be honest, and to try to find a solution together.

The conflict manager also must ask clarifying questions to make sure points are clearly understood. Finally, they must make certain each disputant gets approximately equal time. The mere presence of a third party who is independent of the disputants may help with the resolution of a dispute (Rubin & Brown, 1975). Whomever the mediator might be, it is important to keep in mind that the emphasis remains on establishing meaningfull communication between the disputants, who will eventually identify their own mutually acceptable solution.

Escalarion and De-Escalation

In any conflict, regardless of cause, there are certain behaviors that are almost guaranteed to escalate the problem. There are also behaviors that will have the opposite effect. Conflicts are likely to get worse when people raise their voices, when people make themselves physically larger (by standing up), when personal space is invaded, when other people get involved in the problem and take sides, when past conflicts are brought up (especially if the phrases "you always" and/or "you never" are used), when one or both disputants feel threatened, and when there is an increase in the acting out of anger, fear, or frustration.

All of the above behaviors are exhibited by choice. As an alternative, individuals can instead choose to speak in a calm voice, sit down, allow for comfortable distance between disputants, talk directly to the person with whom the conflict exists, focus on the problem at hand, and identify and express emotions appropriately. These behaviors are de-escalation strategies which, even if used by only one of the two disputants, tend to make a conflict far more manageable.

Implementing a Conflict Resolution Approach

Making conflict resolution a part of the camp environment involves change. It means conflicts must be addressed in a positive way, instead of avoided until they are unavoidable. It means staff members must listen carefully to each other and communicate feelings and perceptions, instead of taking problems to the director first. As a result, the camp environment for everyone, including campers, will be more peaceful, because everyone will know there is a way to solve problems without damaging relationships.

Such an attitude of respect and expectation for change and growth should be firmly established in pre-camp training. It is recommended that at least one member of the staff receive in-depth training in conflict resolution skills. Such training can be accomplished at regional and national conferences, through an on-site consultant, or through more structured classes often offered at nearby colleges and universities.

A commitment on the part of the camp director and management staff will help encourage the use of conflict resolution skills, especially if these skills are clearly modeled by management when conflicts arise. To further encourage staff members to make use of these skills, camp directors may choose to appoint and publicize the selection of a camp mediator.

The techniques of conflict resolution offer a positive alternative to less effective methods such as avoidance and confrontation. Talking it out together instead of taking it out on each other will result in increased cooperation and a more peaceful environment. Best of all, campers will benefit from the improved camp climate and will model the staffs approach to problem solving.
Table 1
The Negotiation Process
STEP 1. Set the tone.
 State your positive intentions. For example:
 "I think we have a problem and I'd really like to
work together with you to solve it for both of us."
 "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me
STEP 2. Define and discuss the problem.
 Using "I messages" and active listening, define and
discuss exactly what the problem is. It is important in
this step for each disputant to have an opportunity to
state their views and to restate what the other person
has said. The interests of both parties must be made
clear. Give each person equal and uninterrupted time.
STEP 3. Summarize progress.
 Once it appears the problem has been described
from both points of view, each person should spend a
few minutes summarizing the situation.
STEP 4. Explore alternative solutions.
 This is the time to ask and answer the question:
"What can I do to solve this problem?" Avoid criticizing
ideas and list as many alternatives as possible. Explore
possible solutions for each part of the problem and
discuss what the future consequences for each idea will
be. Keep in mind that effective solutions must be agree
-able to both parties, and balanced - that is, each person
must contribute something to the solution.
STEP 5. Set a time for follow-up.
 Before ending your negotiation session, agree on a
time to check back with each other to make sure the
solution is working. This encourages both parties to be
accountable and helps to address any unexpected
problems which may arise.
Table 2
 Hiring Staff Members
Who Are Good Conflict Managers
 According to the annual ACA Summer Camp Survey
(Schirick, 1991), hiring qualified staff is the
overwhelming concern of camp directors. Identifying
individuals during the hiring process who are able to manage
conflict in a positive way can help to ensure that im
-plementation of the conflict resolution program will be
successful. The following recommendations can be
helpful in identifying potential conflict managers:
 1. Ask the applicant whether they have had conflict
resolution training. Many schools now offer
training programs.
 2. Ask the applicant whether they have had any
experience working as a conflict manager. Many schools
and community centers have peer mediation pro
-grams staffed by students.
 3. Spend enough time with the applicant to observe
their listening skills. Do they seem to be attentive?
 Are there non-verbal indicators that ensure their
close attention?
 4. Note whether the applicant asks clarifying
questions as you describe the available position.
Requests for more detail tell the interviewer that
the applicant is listening and is interested.
 5. Observe whether the applicant is able to express
thoughts and feelings clearly. Ask a few questions
which require the applicant to provide a more
lengthy answer. For example: "Tell me about your
own summer experiences."
 6. Ask the applicant to describe to you what their
reaction would be to a staff conflict situation (see
exercises in Table 3).
Table 3
 Conflict Resolution Practice Exercises
 The following exercises can be used in staff training
as preparation for implementing a conflict resolution
program. After each exercise, group discussion will
help to identify effective techniques. Remember, all
camp staff, especially management staff and support
staff, should be equal participants in staff development
for conflict resolution.
EXERCISE #1 - Reflective Listening
 In groups of two, spend five minutes listening to
your partner describe a problem she or he has experi
-enced in the past. The listener should use active
listening techniques, both verbal and non-verbal, to
convey to the speaker that she or he is paying close
attention. The listener should not interrupt or give
advice. At the end of five minutes, switch roles. Once
both individuals have had an opportunity to be the
listener, the facilitator leads the group in a discussion
of effective and ineffective listening techniques.
EXERCISE #2 -- I messages
 For each of the following situations, construct
several possible I messages that could convey your feelings
and assessment of the problem. Examples of appropriate
I messages are provided.
 a. Your cabin mate borrowed your beach towel and
left it in a pile on the floor. When you want to use
it, it's still damp.
 "I feel angry when you borrow my towel and
don't hang it up to dry, because I need to use it now
and it's not usable. I would like for you to hang up
my towel after you have borrowed it."
 b. You are the waterfront director. When camp
groups come down to swim, several of the counsel
-ors are more interested in sun bathing than helping
you with life-guarding. You are stretched to the
 "I feel angry when you sunbathe rather than
help lifeguard, because the children may be in
danger and I can't watch them all. I would like for
you to be on duty and pay attention to the campers
when your group is down here."
 c. You work on the grounds with a partner; your
responsibilities include general camp repair. Your
partner says she has repaired several items that later
you find out have not been repaired. You get in
trouble for it.
 "I feel angry when you say that you have re
-paired something and you have not, because the
director assumes that we are both responsible for
repairs and I got into trouble. I would like for you
to be honest with me, or if you need help, to please
EXERCISE #3 - Conflict Resolution Role Plays
 To provide a model for participants to follow, it is
important that trainers demonstrate a role play prior to
involvement by the participants. In groups of three,
trainers role play how they would use the conflict
resolution process to solve each of the following
conflicts. Two participants should play the roles of the
disputants. The third person is an observer who
watches the role play and is prepared to share
observations and suggestions at the conclusion of the
exercise. For practicing mediation, a fourth person can be
added to each group to play the mediator role. Each
participant should be supplied with a copy of the negotiation
process (Table 1) for reference.
 a. Elizabeth is a member of the management team and
is responsible for seeing that team members get to
the Sunday evening staff meeting on time - at 7:00
p.m. Steve has been late to the first two meetings.
Each time he has arrived looking as if he had just
awakened. Elizabeth tells Steve she needs to have a
few minutes to talk with him on Friday...
 b. One member of the kitchen staff leaves camp to
take care of in-town chores and doesn't return for
hours. The other kitchen staff have been complaining
under their breath all day. Finally one of them
complains to you as the camp director. When the
staff member returns you..,
 c. A counselor has brought a portable tape player with
him or her to camp. Every night when the
counselor goes to bed he or she turns it on (to a hard
rock station) loudly enough so that you cannot
sleep (you can hear it from your side of the cabin).
 The counselor claims he or she cannot get to sleep
without the music, you cannot get to sleep with it.
You approach your fellow counselor and...

Susan J. Koch, Ed.D. is an assistant professor of Health Iowa. Debra J. Jordan, Re.D. is an assistant professor of Education at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Leisure Services at the University of Northern Iowa.


Bolton, R. (1979). People skills.' How to assert yourself, listen to others, and resolve conflicts. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Community Board (1987). Conflict resolution: A secondary sch 001 curriculum. San Francisco: Community Board Program, Inc.

Fisher, R., Ury, W. (1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York: Penguin Books. Hocker, J. & Wilmot, W. (1991). Interpersonal conflict, Dubuque: William C. Brown.

Keefe, T. and Roberts, R. (1991). Realizing peace. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press.

Koch, S. (1992). Promoting a healthful environment: Creative conflict management in the school setting. Cedar Fails, Iowa: University of Northern Iowa, Conflict Resolution Education Program.

Keltner, J. (1983). You are the mediator, Unpublished guide. Department of Speech Communication, Oregon State University.

Powell, J. (1974). The secret of staying in love. Niles, Ill.: Argus Communications.

Rubin. J. & Brown, B. (1975). The social psychology of bargaining and negotiation. New York: Academic Press.

Schirick, E. (March 1991). Risk Management: Choosing the right staff for your camp, Camping Magazine, p. 7.
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Title Annotation:camp counselors
Author:Jordan, Debra J.
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Dealing with discipline.
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