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Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 5, Lesson 4

When Differences Arise

How do you handle the meeting when competing outcomes or goals emerge among team members (including families)? First of all assume that this will happen from time to time as the needs and perspectives of families and other team members evolve. Conflict is a natural occurrence of working together as partners and is inevitable. It shouldn't necessarily be viewed as negative. If team members have developed a level of trust and respect for one another and can communicate well, it can lead to the growth and maturity of the team.

father reading to childIt is important when resolving conflicts to focus on solutions, not only the problems. Keeping the goal in mind helps individuals focus on what is important. Below is a list of necessary skills family members developed for professionals in order to manage conflict with families (Patrin & Donovan, 1998):

  1. Acknowledge that a conflict exists.
  2. Seek to understand before being understood.
  3. Develop self-awareness of your motives.
  4. Find positive points of agreement.
  5. Define and clarify issues and agree to work toward shared goals.
  6. Stay focused on today's issue - stay in the present.
  7. Set a level playing field.
  8. Know your own skill level.
  9. Build a reciprocal emotional bank account (relationship) with the parent.

Building Consensus

Reaching consensus is vital to collaboration during IFSP meetings and assures that everyone, including the family, supports the final decision. (Friend &Cook, 2003) Consensus occurs when the concerns of all are addressed in a manner that satisfies each. When consensus is reached, everyone goes away with the feeling that they can live with the decision, even if it's not exactly what they wanted.

Cultural Considerations in Managing Conflict

Think about how cultural differences between families and professionals on the early intervention team might lead to conflict if there is a "disconnect" between the family and professionals' cultural values. Families may not see the value of outcomes that don't match their cultural values. Strategies that don't make sense to families stand a good chance of not being implemented by them at home.

It is especially important for you, as the professional, to understand your "cultural frame of reference" and that of the family. The culture we were raised in carries with it a set of expectations and norms around how we function in the world - how we interact with family and community members, our feelings about higher authority, how we deal with conflicts and communication, etc. Successful outcomes and strategies will reflect the family's cultural frame of reference as well as that of professionals.

Also, if disagreements arise in team meetings, be aware of how various cultures react to conflict when seeking consensus and making decisions. Some issues to be aware of include:

  • The importance of saving face in some cultures.
  • The importance of preserving harmony - not being confrontational.
  • Emphasis on indirectness and subtlety.

When working with others from cultures different than our own, it is helpful to suspend assumptions about how someone is acting or speaking and consider some alternative meanings of what they are doing or saying. It is important to examine our own perceptions and avoid making premature judgments or conclusions (Bruns & Corso, 2001; Chen, McLean, Corso & Bruns, 2001; Friend & Cook, 2003; Thorp, 1999).

Be aware that an individual's level of comfort in a team meeting can be affected by his/her culture and style of interacting. If you don't understand cultural differences, you may make assumptions about families or your professional peers by misinterpreting their behaviors (Banks, Santos, & Roof, 2003). For instance, parents from some cultures would not feel comfortable disagreeing with the professionals in a team meeting and might appear to agree to a plan of services that in reality they do not agree with . This may result in their not being home when the provider arrives at the appointed time or they may not follow through on intervention. Often they become labeled "non-compliant parents" when the real issue is the professionals' misinterpretation of behaviors and communication.

Not all cultures adhere to the family-centered approach used in the United States. Some cultures view professionals as having the final word in decisions about services. For some professionals, it may require a change in mindset to work in the "American" culture of early intervention where differences are valued and sensitivity to families is crucial.

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