Friday, August 29, 2008

Resolving Interpersonal Conflict

When I was in junior college, I had to do a project as part of the entry requirements to enter local universities. One of the girls, Alice (a pseudonym), who was assigned to my group, had absolutely no intention of getting enrolled into a local university. As a result, she was apathetic towards the project, always arriving late, leaving early or not showing up for meetings at all. Our group leader, an extremely enthusiastic girl, was upset with
her attitude and had several arguments with her during our meetings. Although I disapprove of Alice’s attitude, I felt that there was no need to argue with her as long as she gets her part done in time for submission. Naturally, this was not a great solution because we ended up having very little rapport with Alice. Possibly, this lack of rapport led to a vicious cycle, which made Alice even more unwilling to turn up for meetings, leading to even less rapport.

In addition to a grade given for the group, grades were also given to the individual based on their contributions, including the articles that we had contributed to the project. We made regular submission of our project file to the teacher-in-charge for grading. There was once when my printer was not working and Alice volunteered to print the articles for me. However, she came without the articles that I sent her, claiming that she could not print them. Thus, I ended up submitting only the articles that I had at hand. When the project file was returned to us, I looked at it and realized she had placed the articles that I sent her under her own name! I was scandalized by such blatant act of theft.

Finally, our patience was stretched to the limits and we approached our teacher-in-charge for help. We even showed her ‘evidences’ of her poor attitude, such as the irresponsible remarks she made on our msn discussions and her poor attendances. To our dismay, instead of guiding us, she viewed such conflicts as unnecessary and gave a poor grade for the group.

I was extremely horrified by that incident at that point of time, for I felt that even if I had failed to handle the situation in the best possible manner, it was still unfair to my group leader and I to be marked down due to an irresponsible group member. I have learnt how to handle such situations better now, although I am still not proficient at it. I really hope for some enlightening inputs on how you would handle such situation if you were in my shoes! =)


Tiffany said...

Hello Oxy!

That sounds like a pretty horrifying story! I thought that your teacher could have handled the situation in a more tactful manner instead of brushing your group off just like that! I mean, your group must have approached her because you could not deal with the situation yourselves.

My! If I were in your shoes, I would definitely feel frustrated too! And if the teacher cannot help me, I would have gone to a higher level and told the overall teacher-in-charge or if need be, speak to the vice-principal or principal or SOMEONE who could help us.

Alice's actions and her poor attitude has definitely dragged the entire group into the mud and I feel that she should have been more responsible. It would be difficult to talk to her in person but I think getting someone of higher authority to speak to her about her behaviour would be the best. If she still remains nonchalant, the best way is to "take her out" of the group because she cannot be doing this to your poor group and all of you suffer from her lack of enthusiasm.

Well, I hope that the grade that you received did not greatly affect your eligibility in the entrance to NUS but that was definitely a traumatic experience!

Lyon said...

Yes, I totally agree with Tiffany. If the teacher was of no help, you should have sought assistance from higher-up. Her attitude aside, the act of her submitting your articles as her own should not have been tolerated at all. Did you confront her for that? As much as I feel that communication is essential, there are times when it is useless. If communicating with her could not work, communicate with someone else who could help! You might be able to teach a bird to soar into the sky, but you can't possibly talk a cow into flying!

Wei Kin said...

Hi Oxy,

In my year (which was the first year project work was introduced. We were the guinea pigs), we had to constantly fill out peer appraisal forms as well as organize meetings with the mentor.

The main purpose of the mentor was to resolve conflicts within the group, but I believe that they are in charge of grading teamwork as well. I would think that one of the main reasons the group got marked down was due to the inability of the group to settle the problem in a more amiable way.

However, in this case, it does not look like there was no other way to resolve the issue. The mentor might have misunderstood the problem, hence leading to the unfair situation. As Tiffany mentioned, I would had gone someone higher up in the chain to rectify the problem.

This is rather similar to the problem I wrote about in my blog (with the exception of the unfair teacher) :)

Oxy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Oxy said...

I agree that part of the reason my group got marked down was because of poor teamwork. However, even if she were to mark us down, I feel that she should have at least taught us how to handle the situation better.That, I feel, is her responsibility as a mentor.

Moreover, I feel that the introduction of project work was to let us learn how to work in a team. Are we not suppose to learn from mistakes? By choosing to mark students down when they seek the mentor for help seems as good as discouraging them to seek help at all.

We did not approach higher authorities partly because this is an 'AO' level exam and it is hard for anyone to change our grades once it is out. Moreover, she is also my form teacher who is responsible for the comments in my report book and some sort of referral letter that we were given upon graduation.

Thank goodness it did not affect my eligibility to enter NUS. I also have other experiences in working in projects of larger scale to make up for the poor grade, had my ability to work in teams been put into doubt.

Perhaps communication with her in a more tactful manner may have worked if we tried it right from the start, before problems start arising. To some extent, I remembered this incident till now because, I regretted the outcome. I have often wondered if the outcome would have been better if I had done some things that I did not do then. However, it is something I will never find out.

Thanks all for commenting =)

weiren said...

Hi Oxy,

I certainly do agree that your tutor might have handled the situation with a lot more tact. However, I always believe that school is the only place we can make mistakes and still not subject our heads to the chopping board.

Having Alice as a team mate certainly isn't easy to work with. At the end of the day, it's one personal's work ethics that will work you through your project.

So what if another "Alice" appears in your future work environment? Well. Start making friend to protect yourself! Or at least I feel that's right.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks, Oxy, for sharing this interesting story. You've related it very concisely and clearly. You've also initiated a fruitful discussion with your classmates.

As far as your "problem" goes, I can understand your frustration. In a case like that, I'm not even sure what the best approach would be other than doing exactly what you did.

Oxy said...

Yes I confronted her regarding the stolen articles and told my teacher about it too. She claimed that those articles belonged to her.

My teacher said that she would look into it but I never found out if she ever did. Alice received the same grade as us by the way.

Oxy said...

Wei Ren,

Yes that has always been my concern. What happen if i meet another Alice? Will my boss be fair and understanding?

What do you mean by making friends to protect yourself? Could you please elaborate?

Wei Kwan said...

Hey Oxy,

Let me make a guess what Weiren means by making friend to protect yourself. My interpretation is that by building up a closer interpersonal relationship with Alice, it will be harder for her to do such a thing since there will be a bond between you and her. After all, I guess friends do not try to hurt each other ? :)

Any prizes for a correct interpretation ? :D