Guest Essay: Discovering collaboration, creativity, innovation and understanding through conflict

New Institute for Conflict Studies provides essential training for resolving disputes

by Eva M. Soeka, J.D.
Conflict is everywhere in our everyday lives. It exists in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, communities, and nation. Yet, despite our post-graduate, graduate, and undergraduate degrees, few of us have learned tools to address conflict effectively.
Cardinal Stritch University has developed the Institute for Conflict Studies to meet that need. The Institute provides training for people engaged in a wide range of professions, including business, law, health care, education, public service, and nonprofit management. Participants in Institute courses and programs learn to identify, manage, and resolve conflict in their everyday work and community lives.
Why study conflict? Our workplaces ‒ where we spend the majority of each day ‒ are riddled with conflict. Rapidly changing technology, a progressively global economy, and increasingly diverse workforces have dictated that issues are resolved in teams. Those teams have members of widely differing points of view and technical expertise, yet collaboration is imperative.
From a financial perspective alone, the ability to address conflict is a necessity. In 2010, Entrepreneur magazine reported that U.S. employees
spent 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict. This amounted to $359 billion in paid hours or 385,000,000 work days.
Aside from the financial consequences, conflict affects our daily lives in other negative ways. Employee turnover, absenteeism, grievances and lawsuits, and higher health care costs ‒ many related to stress-related claims ‒ all affect the productivity and innovation of any organization. In addition, these conflict outcomes result in poor decision making and a poisoned culture that lead to difficulty retaining workers and attracting new talent.
Why study conflict at Stritch? Cardinal Stritch University’s foundation is based in Franciscan values. Two of those values are “creating a caring community” and “making peace.” These core values are embedded in the Stritch community and its educational environment. An intentional focus on conflict in its courses and programs is a natural outgrowth of those values.
The Institute addresses many of these issues through four major components: professional development programs, academic courses,
research, and community discussions. Each of these components allows Stritch students, faculty, and staff to engage the larger community in innovative learning opportunities that demonstrate the Franciscan commitment to the core values of creating a caring community and making peace.
The foundation of the Institute is the academic discipline of “dispute resolution,” which is the interdisciplinary study of conflict,
encompassing the scholarship of business, law, sociology, psychology, philosophy, and theology to develop an understanding of how conflict affects individuals, communities, and nations. While it is a fairly new discipline, only about 50 years in the making, dispute resolution has gained a prominent position at large, prestigious universities like Harvard and Stanford.
The Institute’s first program will be held June 18-22 when 20 participants will study the practice of mediation, the process of a third party facilitating the negotiation of disputants while they attempt to resolve their dispute. Mediation is used in many different types of disputes ‒ divorce, contracts, land development, and employment. The students will study and practice interest-based bargaining (win-win) and learn the basics of mediation in formal (court-connected) and informal settings. This program will be followed by two advanced mediation training programs in August.
The Institute also is developing an interdisciplinary graduate certificate (12 credit hours) designed for professionals to learn how to address conflict more effectively. Students currently enrolled in graduate degree programs at Stritch will have the opportunity to participate in the certificate program, which will provide a specific added skill that is attractive to employers and practical in any workplace. The University is finalizing the program and expects to offer it in fall.
Conflict is an inevitable ‒ and necessary ‒ part of life. Out of conflict comes creativity, innovation, and understanding. If conflict is addressed constructively, out of conflict also comes collaboration. The Institute for Conflict Studies is designed to give individuals the tools to make that collaboration a reality.
Eva M. Soeka, J.D., is the executive director of the Cardinal Stritch University Institute for Conflict Studies. Details of her professional expertise and experience in the field of conflict studies and dispute resolution can be found on the Conflict Consultants Network website.
Cardinal Stritch University
Mission: To educate participants on how to identify, prevent, manage, and resolve conflict
Vision: To understand that conflict is a necessary part of collaboration
Core Values: acceptance, tolerance, openness, collaboration