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"Setting Expectations and Resolving Conflicts" Program

Developing Communication and Conflict Management Skills to Save Time and Enhance Productivity

A FULLY ONLINE VERSION IS AVAILABLE! PLEASE VISIT: Career Success Page and click on the Conflict Resolution tab

Do you want to be a more effective graduate student, teaching assistant, postdoc, or faculty member?

Do you want to more clearly understand what is expected of you or to better describe your expectations to others?

Do you know how to effectively resolve disagreements or misunderstandings with others?

Do you value and want to preserve good working relationships with others?

Do you know the costs of conflict?

Read on!

Conflict Resolution Logo

Our program provides a focused and effective method to improve the very critical interactions between graduate students and faculty in order to improve doctoral student retention rates and the quality of graduate education and to effectively resolve conflicts when they arise. (See the CGS Monograph link at the left). This program will soon be available in an interactive online environment. This proactive approach uses "interest-based negotiation" strategies to set expectations within graduate programs and between individuals in an early and on-going manner, as well as to enhance communication and resolve conflicts between individuals. Interest-based negotiation strategies are based on open discussion of the underlying interests and desires of the people involved and on exploring multiple options, as well as crafting creative solutions.

The program does not assume that all issues in graduate education are negotiable or that the power differential between faculty and graduate students or postdocs must become more equal; faculty are clearly still responsible for disciplinary standards. The program also does not assume that all conflict is to be avoided. On the contrary, conflict over ideas is part of the intellectual core of graduate education.

Lovitts (1996) reported a strong connection between highly productive faculty and the high persistence rates of their doctoral students. Faculty who were less productive had a lower success rate among their graduate students. Lovitts data also indicate that highly productive faculty tend to have excellent interpersonal relationships with their students.

Green's (1991) research that links early and explicit communication to productivity; both faculty productivity and that of their students is also a powerful argument. Lovitts data also indicate that highly productive faculty tend to have excellent interpersonal relationships with their students.

REFERENCE: Lovitts, Barbara E. 2001. Leaving the Ivory Tower: the Causes and Consequences of Departure from Doctoral Study. Rowman and Littlefield publishers. 305pp.

REFERENCE: Green, S.G 1991. Professional Entry and teh Advisor Relationship. Group and organizational management 16(4): 387-409

The Cost of Conflicts and Misunderstandings

See PowerPoint Slide.


Interest-based Negotiation/Conflict Resolution Strategies

Interest-based negotiation strategies focus on the underlying interests and concerns of the involved individuals, with an emphasis on crafting options which satisfy multiple people and their interests.

The interest-based approach relies on five main strategies:

  • the discussion is focused on the problem and not on the people involved
  • the focus is on the needs, desires, interests and fears underlying the initial statements or actions
  • a variety of options are generated that advance shared interests and creatively reconcile differing interests before making a final decision
  • criteria reflecting a fair standard are used in reaching agreement. By discussing criteria, instead of firm positions, individuals can defer to a fair solution (which may include more than one option among those explored)
  • ideally, success leads to a process whereby the individuals respect flexibility and are willing to reenter the process again as the context changes

Workshop Description

Information for Graduate Students

What MSU Graduate Students say about this program

How Can You Participate?

For more information and/or to become a participating department/unit/program, contact:

Karen Klomparens, Dean
The Graduate School
Chittenden Hall
466 W. Circle Dr. Rm 230
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan, 48824
Phone: 517-355-0301


Program development for the Setting Expectations and Resolving Conflicts program workshop was supported, in part, by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Secondary Education (FIPSE) (1997-2000) and by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (1997-1999).

Last Modified: 10/20/2014

© 2017 The Graduate School, Michigan State University Board of Trustees
MSU is an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity employer.
Chittenden Hall; 466 W. Circle Dr. Rm 230; East Lansing MI 48824-1044.
Phone: (517) 353-3220