Effective conflict management is pivotal to the students’ experience in the SDC environment and will be frequently exercised on competition days. An ideal approach to tackling disagreements should facilitate respectful communication, inclusivity, and constructive collaboration between the students. The vision of the SSEF is to foster a learning environment where diverse viewpoints generate growth, opportunity and strong teamwork skills. As a volunteer, your role in encouraging these principles ensures a positive experience for all participants.
Verbal, Digital, Physical Attacks
As a volunteer, it is important to be informed of the necessary steps to be taken in the event of a verbal, digital or physical attacks. Circumstances may vary, but ultimately you want to adhere to the 3Rs referenced in the safeguarding agreement when it pertains to interactions between adults and children (under 18s):
Receive – If someone makes you aware of an incident, it is imperative to maintain a non-judgemental approach and never promise confidentiality in these situations.
Record – Write a written report as soon as possible. This should ideally include direct quotes from the student(s) involved. This report should also be signed and dated by you to confirm authenticity.
Report – A child protection officer (CPO) should be notified immediately of any incidents, failing that, the Chair of Trustees or SSEF Honorary Chair should be informed. If all are unavailable, or involved, an external organisation such as the NSPCC should be notified.
When encountering conflict between students, your first step is to diffuse the situation by separating the parties involved. As a volunteer, it is not your responsibility to mediate a situation or give advice in this particular scenario, instead, notify SSEF staff of the incident as soon as possible and as a temporary solution, prevent escalation by stopping interaction between the parties involved if it is safe to do so. Once staff have been alerted, teachers should also be made aware of any conflict that has taken place.
When carrying out these steps, try to remain calm, maintain your composure and refrain from carrying out any actions that may escalate the situation. This includes trying to resolve arguments, taking sides, being aggressive in your addressing of someone – be assertive but not hostile. If a physical threat is imminent, distance yourself immediately and seek help.
When writing a report, include full names, ideally which school or team the students reside in, witnesses, time, date and location. This should be emailed to the CPO working at the event. This information should be given to you at the start of your day.
A student makes a disparaging joke about another student’s design confounding into an extremely aggressive argument between many different students. At one point, slurs are thrown out.
Solution: Disperse the crowd and send offending parties to different parts of the room, ensure the room is supervised by another volunteer so you can inform an SSEF staff member of the incident. At no point should the students be left unsupervised. The teachers/chaperones responsible for the students can then be notified and an incident form should be filled out.
Two students blame each other for an oversight in tailoring their current design to a particular RFP point. This disagreement leads to a physical altercation where a pushed student stumbles and falls backwards.
Solution: Seperate students if it is safe for you to do so. Check on the downed student to see if they require any immediate first aid; make sure that the room is supervised before seeking the CPO and, if required, the first aider. Inform teachers/guardians and then complete an incident form.
A student has had numerous personal attacks on them made at an online heat. They are currently quiet and withdrawn in a breakout room.
Solution: Shut down communication between the students in question and have someone monitor the situation while you alert the CPO at the event. Proceed to notify teachers/guardians and write a report as normal.
Protocol for Client/TA Referral
Often, students will dismiss ideas on the basis that “the client won’t like that”. Additionally, this can sometimes become a strategy employed by veteran schools to undermine their less experienced counterparts. The competition’s advisory system serves as a valuable solution to address this issue. It establishes a clear framework for advisors to navigate conflicts of this nature. Upon spotting a sign of students in disagreement over whether the client would approve of a design, an advisor should direct and support the students to clarify this with the TAs themselves. Students should be encouraged, if not praised, in instances where they opt to engage with TAs, thereby fostering a normalised practice of seeking clarifications directly from the client’s perspective. This will allow students to take further initiative in the future, and discourage them from creating further conflicts. The ultimate aim is to cultivate an environment that actively encourages students to engage with client representatives viewpoints.
As a volunteer, you could encourage John to explain his perspective and ask Lily to share her idea’s benefits. Then, refer them to the TAs to get clarification. Upon their return, ask them to verbalise the result of the discussion and the subsequent plan. Praise them for taking the initiative to consult the TAs.
When faced with technical or interdepartmental disagreements, a balanced approach is essential. Competitors often hold the opinions of volunteers in very high regard and can misinterpret thought-provoking questioning as criticism. Positive prompts that encourage productive ideation and teamwork are effective – allowing students to tackle the issue independently can be instrumental in fostering critical thinking and collaboration. It’s advisable to observe these conflicts from a distance, intervening only to provide prompts such as “What benefits does this design offer for the settlement?” or “Do the advantages outweigh the drawbacks?”. After careful consideration, referring to the established “Protocol for Client Referral” is recommended, enabling students to seek clarification and insight from client representatives. This strategy promotes an environment where conflicts are opportunities for growth and learning, facilitating constructive collaboration among participants.
As a volunteer, you might observe their disagreement from a distance. Then, gently ask them to discuss the benefits of each approach for the settlement’s success and whether the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. Iterate with further prompts until Sarah and David can find common agreeable solutions that are best suited for the task at hand.
In the context of the competition, the concept of “negative practice” encapsulates commonly observed ineffective management or communication strategies. These practices can impede progress and undermine collaboration; a volunteer should be watching out for the potential pitfalls, especially in those students in leadership positions. Examples include:
- Micromanagement or extreme dictation of what’s “correct” from management.
- Taking on too much responsibility individually and leaving out the rest of the team.
- Major lack of organisation – clear indication that if something doesn’t change, they won’t finish on time.
To address these issues, a solution rooted in constructive management principles is recommended. The approach emphasises public praise and private correction. Constructive criticism should be shared with the student privately rather than in front of their peers. If necessary, take a moment to step aside and address the concern outside the immediate group setting. By contrast, praise for ideas, strong collaboration and general positive considerations should be given publicly. This strategy encourages a more supportive and respectful atmosphere, nurturing growth and ensuring that negative practices are transformed into opportunities for improvement and learning.
As a volunteer, discreetly approach Jane and ask if she has a spare minute to chat outside. Start by praising her activity in the team, but suggest that she considers delegating tasks and valuing input from other team members. Offer her constructive feedback privately to promote a healthier management style.
As a volunteer, you could offer Tom a private suggestion to improve his organisation methods. Encourage him to plan more effectively through the use of a timetable and to consider implementing the TGROW model to ensure he exits the conversation having a plan ready to execute. Additionally, make sure that Tom has what he needs to facilitate effective communication with the rest of management and subsequently his company.