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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2011

Resolving Chapter Conflicts
Martha S. Zlokovich, PhD, Psi Chi Executive Director

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.

A high school teacher in Pensacola, Florida, inspired Dr. Martha S. Potter Zlokovich to pursue psychology as a career. She completed her BA in psychology at UCLA, and MS and PhD in developmental psychology at the University of Florida.

Dr. Zlokovich joined Psi Chi in 2008 as its second Executive Director, leaving Southeast Missouri State University after teaching there for 17 years. This move, however, was not her first involvement with Psi Chi. She served as chapter advisor since 1993, as Midwestern Region Vice-President (1998-2000), and as National President of Psi Chi (2003-04). In 1996, Southeast’s chapter won the Ruth Hubbard Cousin’s National Chapter of the Year Award, and several chapter members have won Psi Chi Regional Research Awards at MPA and/or had their research published in Psi Chi's Journal.

At Southeast, Dr. Zlokovich taught Child Development, Adolescent Development, Lifespan Development, Advanced Child Psychology, and Introductory Psychology for Majors. She also served as chair of the department. Her research interests have focused on student study habits, study beliefs, and persistence to graduation as well as adolescent and young adult contraception and sexuality.

Dr. Zlokovich and her husband Neil have two sons and a daughter-in-law. Aaron (Truman State University, 2010) and Stephanie live in Lexington, KY and Matthew is a senior civil engineering major at the University of Alabama.

Copyright 2011 (Volume 15, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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