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Resolving Chapter Conflicts
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by Martha S. Zlokovich, PhD - Psi Chi Executive Director - Associate Editor
Categories: Executive Director's Message
At the X University Psi Chi Chapter meeting. “Is Joel coming? Does anyone know where
he is?” asked the frustrated chapter president 10 minutes after the meeting was
supposed to start. The vice president, secretary, and membership chair shrugged
their shoulders, glancing at one another with resignation. No one had heard from
their treasurer, as usual. Joel rarely showed up to executive committee meetings,
and only sporadically showed up to chapter meetings and events. This annoyed the
other officers who also had hectic schedules and frequently found themselves completing
tasks Joel said he would do.
Who should you turn to when there are problems with chapter members, officers, or
advisors? Two principles should guide your decisions about how to handle chapter
conflicts. Principle one is that your first course of action should be to discuss
the issue with the person or people with whom you are having a problem. Principle
two is to start at the beginning and move up any “chain of command” as needed.
Talk first to the people involved in the problem. This is the simplest
advice yet perhaps the hardest to enact. We often prefer to avoid rather than approach
people with whom we disagree or are angry or annoyed. But a frank conversation between
the people involved can clear up misunderstandings, resolve a problem quickly, and
avoid escalation of the incident.
Plan carefully when and where you will have such a conversation. Decide on a time
and place that will not make the person feel ambushed or embarrassed in front of
peers or colleagues, and be prepared to explain clearly what specific behaviors
are problematic, to state what the consequences of those behaviors have been for
others, and to listen. Approach the conversation with the idea you may have misunderstood
the situation, there may be extenuating circumstances, or the other person may be
horribly dismayed to realize how her or his behavior has been viewed by others and
very eager to change or compromise.
Of course the main reason we avoid talking to people who are causing problems is
that we are afraid they will become angry or hurt, and that is certainly possible.
But think about how you will answer if the person asks later “Why didn’t you just
tell me?” In any case, when approaching the person in question, resolve to treat
him or her with respect and dignity; to approach the situation with kindness, concern,
and maturity; to maintain your composure regardless of the reaction; and to work
together to find a solution.
Follow the chain of command—chapter, university, Society. It is
best if problems concerning members in a chapter can be resolved within the chapter.
Sometimes this can be accomplished with a one-on-one conversation, but other times
members may need to bring the problem to the attention of the officers and/or faculty
advisor. But don’t approach the advisor without having talked to officers, and don’t
involve the chair of the department without having first talked to the officers
and advisor. Understand that if the problem involves university policy, the typical
campus chain of command is department chair, college dean, academic provost, university
president. If you show up at the dean’s office, for example, the dean is likely
to send you back to the department chair or faculty advisor if you have not first
brought the problem to them. In some cases, the campus student organization office
may be a resource for helping chapters resolve disagreements about whether or
not the chapter is following university policy.
You can always contact the Psi Chi Central Office any time for advice and information.
Central Office staff can answer your questions about the Constitution, chapter governance,
chapter bylaws, and roles of chapter officers and the faculty advisor. In addition,
your regional Vice-President, who serves on the Board of Directors and is a faculty
member and chapter advisor too, can provide a different perspective, Whether you
contact the Central Office staff or your regional Vice-President for information
or resolution of a problem depends on its nature. In either case, if you are asking
for more than advice, be prepared to explain how the situation has been addressed
up to that point.
Its no fun addressing problems with other people, but the ability to work with others
to resolve problems fairly is a skill that students, and their future employers,
will find valuable for many years after they graduate.
Winter 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 2, p. 5), published by
Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2010, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.