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NEW RESEARCH: The grassroots solution to workplace conflict

A Concordia study found new uses for personal construct psychology techniques
October 24, 2017
By J. Latimer

It’s hard to imagine a more sought-after skill than conflict resolution — in politics, the workplace and personal relationships.

“Conflict often arises in group work. There are very few jobs that allow you to operate alone in a silo,” says Ann-Louise Davidson, associate professor of education in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

“Even teachers, who frequently ask students to work in groups, have a hard time reaching consensus when they meet around matters of education.”

A new study Davidson co-authored with PhD student Nadia Naffi and Carole Raby, a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), found that personal construct psychology (PCP) is a useful tool for getting groups of educators to work together.

 “A PCP Approach to Conflict Resolution in Learning Communities” was published in the journal Personal Construct Theory and Practice. The research was fuelled by a $100,000 grant from the “Programme de soutien à la formation continue du personnel scolaire”, also known as the Chantier 7 program from the Ministry of Education, Recreation and Sports.

Tension between school personnel

Over the past three years, the researchers helped to develop learning communities (LCs) consisting of elementary school teachers, principals, resource people and other school personnel from six schools on the South Shore of Montreal.

The objective of the LCs was to improve student perseverance and school success via more strategic use of Professional Education Development (PED) day activities by teachers and staff, and by creating a network within and across the school personnel and community.

Essentially, they wanted to identify which activities the schools should be developing and implementing.

“We took a grassroots perspective, which involved having the learning communities — not the school board, not us — determine priorities and identify strengths, interests and ambitions collectively,” says Davidson, who holds the Concordia University Research Chair in Maker Culture.

“As long as people were talking about ideas, everything was fine. But as soon as they started to talk about activities and who does what, all the conflicts emerged. The process generated a significant amount of tension.”

The personal construct psychology solution

To resolve the conflicts, Davidson applied PCP strategies stemming from the work of George Kelly, the American psychologist. He developed a psychotherapy approach and a technique called the repertory grid interview to help patients analyze their own constructs or ways of seeing the world.

“Using the repertory grid as a technique to structure a focus group, we helped people understand each other’s perspectives and we untangled the source of conflict,” says Davidson, who co-organized Quebec’s first International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology at Concordia this summer.

“Instead of people butting heads, they looked at the ideas on the table and were able to move forward with PED activities that provide tools for student learning, for example, or created better relationships.”

Conflict resolution in group work is an invaluable life skill, Davidson asserts.

“The PCP grid interview has proven to be an effective strategy to help school personnel solve a conflict.”

Read the cited study, “
A PCP Approach to Conflict Resolution in Learning Communities.”



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