As Ombuds, I spend much of my time working with people one-on-one, whether it is in consultations or conflict coaching. I also dedicate a good part of my time to developing and presenting workshops to campus groups. I would like to tell you why I offer workshops, and explain what they entail.
My overarching goal as Ombuds is to help people at UNLV deal with conflict better and, along the way, have happier and more productive times here. Conducting workshops that promote healthy conflict resolution and other interpersonal skills is, I have found, a good way to reach a great number of people at the same time.
I’ve done a mix of workshops that are open to the general campus community and those presented specifically for a single unit or program. Both have positives. Workshops for individuals from across campus attract a broad diversity of participants and viewpoints, which can be refreshing. There’s also the chance for participants to meet people that they may not see in their everyday grind.
Workshops for a single unit have the benefit of being customized to that group. That means they can be specifically tailored to areas that have been identified as needing improvement. And, because it’s a single cohesive group, the members will be able to apply the workshop’s content together.
For campus-wide workshops, I like to see what issues people are bringing to the office and work backward from there. Because communications, particularly with one’s supervisor, have been the top concern raised by visitors to the office, I put together a workshop called “Difficult Conversations: How to Make Them Less Painful and More Productive.” I think that one is a good example of my overall approach to workshops, as it talks a bit about what exactly makes some conversations so difficult before exploring ways to make them more likely to be productive.
All of the workshops the Ombuds Office offers can be presented in person or remotely. Usually, in-person workshops have a substantial interactive roleplay component, giving participants the chance to practice a little of what they have learned. The interactive aspect makes in-person my first choice for workshop mode. While online presentations can be effective, there is just something a bit more immediate about being in the same room, discussing the same material.
In general, the Ombuds Office’s workshops offer strategies for better conflict resolution. “Understanding Conflict Drivers: Different Causes, Common Dynamics,” for example, looks at the five drivers of a conflict—what motivates people to argue, essentially. By understanding the type of conflict you are in, you have a better chance at a successful resolution, since you can be intentional about how you approach it. After taking this workshop, a participant should be able to “self-diagnose” when in the midst of a conflict and course correct.
We also have separate workshops for students and employees centered on, respectively, one-on-one and group-based conflicts. These are a chance to explore the anatomy of a conflict, again with an eye on giving participants the tools they need to defuse or otherwise productively resolve them.
I have said that I prefer to work with groups in person, but online workshops can be valuable as well. The key is to be even more interactive than usual; this isn’t a YouTube video, but a live session with real people. We can use breakout rooms to facilitate roleplay groups, or take advantage of the online features like chat and polling to bring interactive elements to the presentation. One advantage of online is that, by this point, most of us at UNLV are familiar and feel comfortable with it. One disadvantage is that it may be difficult for all participants to focus fully, because as dynamic as the presentation may be, it has to compete with a seemingly-endless march of new emails, Workday notifications, or other attention-grabbing alerts.
One workshop that we’ve recently launched, “Speed Conflict Resolution the Wrong Way,” is a light-hearted, intensely interactive way to get your group laughing together, while considering how to best handle conflicts. It’s designed along the lines of a speed dating event, with participants changing partners after each three-minute conflict roleplay. When I started putting this together, I wanted to offer an activity that got people thinking critically about conflict resolution, but didn’t want to put them on the spot by turning it into a competition over who had, through previous study, inclination, or blind luck, found the best resolution to the scenario. So, after incorporating a brilliant suggestion from a colleague at UNLV, I pursued the possibility of flipping it around. Instead of trying to resolve conflicts well, why not do it as badly as possible?
The end result is the same—participants learn which techniques work and which don’t—but there is no pressure to give the “right” answer. Since we’ve abandoned all pretense of productively solving the conflict, participants can have fun with it. And they do. After we’ve gotten “wrong-way” conflict out of our systems, the workshop closes with a few tips on how to solve them the right way (which, you guessed it, doesn’t usually happen in three minutes).
Speed Conflict Resolution sums up my current approach to workshops. While the overall purpose is to impart a few techniques or strategies for better conflict resolution, I think that the material is best absorbed if people are, frankly, having a good time. That means occasionally fanciful but always thought-provoking roleplay scenarios and an emphasis on participation.
The Ombuds Office can optimize a workshop for any group, but I’ve found that my current sweet spot is a group of ten to twenty people—big enough to get some variety in partners, but small enough that everyone feels engaged. I’m always up to the challenge of customizing a program for a bigger or smaller group.
While I am usually most comfortable with workshops of 60 to 90 minutes, we can add more elements to provide up to two hours of programming, or create a mini-session of 15 to 20 minutes. I have a list of current workshops right here. However, I will note that I am working on a few more than aren’t on the list yet. If you’re interested in a workshop on a particular topic, ask me—it’s possible I’m already working on it, and if not, I’m always happy to expand my repertoire.
If you would like to discuss the Ombuds Office bringing a workshop to your area, please contact us. And, as always, if you want to discuss any kind of campus or workplace conflict, whether interpersonal or process-related, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. My door is open.
David G. Schwartz