Saturday, October 3, 2015

Conflict Management

I have been thinking of a recent disagreement, or conflict, that I am currently or recently experiencing either in my personal life or with a colleague. I have to say that, in recent years, I haven’t had a disagreement or conflict – except for normal spousal spats. I am guessing that this might make me a competent communicator.

The most “recent” conflict was when my son was in middle school about 11 years ago and having issues with his sign language interpreter that was not qualified to work with him because of her language and interpreting abilities.

The issue was that there was no one in the school district office who was able to evaluate her sign language and interpreting skills. When I offered that I was able to assist in that respect, they responded that they did not allow parents to become involved with the interview and selection process. I tried to convince them that all I would be doing was to affirm their abilities, not selecting the candidate. They would not hear of it.

We had a series of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings where there was a sizable number of people involved. We would be going back and forth, and it was an exasperating process. Two things happened that did resolve the conflict.

My husband helped me to identify the scope of the issue and recommended that I focus on gathering information related to the issue. I researched the regulations of 504 that stated that the Deaf client had the right to select the interpreter of their choice – because not all interpreters are qualified to work with different deaf people with different needs. I copied and highlighted the section and sent it to every person who had been involved with my son’s IEP.

At the next meeting, there was a new member of our IEP team, a newly hired Vice Principal who did not utter anything at the meeting. Somehow the Special Education Director was still resistant to making the decision to replace the unqualified interpreter. I kept telling her that we did not want to go to due process and that we would win hands down. The meeting got heated, and the interpreter started to cry. The Special Education Director looked at my son and said, “Look at what you did; you made her cry!” My son did not flicker because luckily I groomed him not to react to anything they said.

I think the Vice Principal saw enough to make her own conclusions. Right after the meeting ended badly, she came up to me and asked if I could sit down and explain the history of the issue. I explained to her that there was no one qualified in the entire school district to evaluate the interpreting abilities of the sign language interpreter. She got it, clearly. Before I knew it, she had the interpreter replaced and arranged for me to meet all of the candidates and recommended a few for the district to select. They also added a provision that the interpreter would be given a one-month and three-month probation.

Ever since, the school district would be most cooperative with our family’s access needs.

I cannot say what we did that clinched the solution of the conflict. My husband coached me how to conduct myself by sticking to the “facts” of the issue: the qualifications of the sign language interpreter and the deaf client’s right to replace the interpreter. That nearly did not work. The new Vice Principal made it happen. The question now is why she was able to make it happen and not the Special Education Director.

I do not recall any situation where I was able to work out the disagreement with another individual because we both worked together and resolved it. It would be more that I used my legal rights to let them know they would be out of compliance; and they would then comply. That’s also why I wondered about the nonviolent communication (NVC) or the 3Rs.

While I totally and wholeheartedly agree with their principles, I do not recall a time when their principles worked for me.


  1. Marla
    You make a valid point about the ability of the NVC or the 3 R's. As much as we want to institute the qualities of non-violent and conflict resolution the other party may not want to continue on this route. You husband gave you excellent advise to stay with the facts. Even with the conflict I chose; even though I put myself in his shoes there are procedures to follow and I could not give him permission to just show up on Saturday and leave the staff over ratio. Our center on the weekend has a skeleton staff. There are only six people scheduled to work a weekend versus the forty we have during the week. I agree their principles but to adhering to them in some situations would be challenging. Get post! ck

  2. Hi Marla,

    I enjoy your honesty when reading your post this week. You are fortunate to have your husband in this scenario to aid you with the approaches that you should take. He gave you advice that was factual and not one sided. I believe that it is easier to just get angry versus sticking to the facts of the case. I wonder if the same rules still apply at this time. You were, in my opinion, a pioneer to your school district by advocating for your son and future students. I agree that the NVC and 3 R's are hard to identify with in all scenarios. I feel like it has to do with the depth of the conflict. When I am arguing with my family I find that we get so upset that we are trying to say harmful things to each other. Although I know it is wrong, it is easier to be angry than it is to forgive and forget. I think I grew up believing that being too forgiving is a sign of weakness.

  3. Thank for sharing this experience Marla, this must have been an extremely frustrating process for you and your family but how encouraging to read that your entire family worked together on the issues to find a resolution that worked (your husband helped coach you, you coached your son, and ultimately your knowledge and persistencey about the issue coached the school). I hope this will make the process more positive for future families at this school with deaf considerations for their education.

    You also made an excellent point of nonviolent communication being a positive theory for some conflicts, but it does not apply to all. Sometimes, like this instance, legal or political implications hold power within debates to implement change.

    Despite our strategies for communication, we must do the research and have the background knowledge to bring to the conversation or debate or else we are walking towards a resolution with a blindfold on.

    You are a remarkable parent and leader for early childhood professionals!