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Academics > Advising > Conflicts Between and Advisor and an Advisee
Advising Manual.

Conflicts Between an Advisor and an Advisee

Every social relationship, particularly one as important as the Advisor-Advisee one, is bound to result in conflict sometimes.  Rather than throw up our hands in angst at these disagreements, we ought to model respectful, purposeful discussion in order to try to negotiate agreement. 

There are many ways to resolve such conflicts but each are grounded in careful conversation.  We particularly like the notion of "principled negotiation," a four-part strategy.   Below, we paraphrase career consultant Peter Fiske's discussion of principled negotiation, a concept originally found in Fisher and Ury's Getting to Yes. 

The four parts to principled negotiation are:

  • Separating the People from the Problem
    • Frequently, disagreements occur not simply because there is a difference in opinion, but also because there is also a difference in style between the Advisor and the Advisee.  In order to facility communication, care should be taken to let each party speak and then parse which elements are issue-based and which are personality-based.
  • Focusing on Interests, not Positions
    • It is important to realize that Advisors and Advisees may actually share common interests even if their stated positions seem diametrically opposed.  Ask for the reasons behind the positions which are taken; you may find a shared interest driving both.
  • Inventing Options for Mutual Gain
    • When a conflict occurs between an Advisee and an Advisor, it often demands a clear understanding not simply of what will "solve the problem," but of where the problem arose in the first place.  As Fiske puts it:  "to develop...options [for mutually acceptable solutions] begin by analyzing what is wrong, what the causes are, and what the possible actions are."  Doing so will present the full train of thought rather than just the moment of conflict itself.
  • Insisting upon Using Objective Criteria
    • One thing that may become obvious in your conversations is that either the Advisor or the Advisee is acting idiosyncratically.  By drawing upon common understandings -- either what other advisors or students are doing, what departments recommend, or what Monmouth College itself decrees appropriate -- you both may have recourse to common and objective criteria to help settle the conflict.

Fiske, Peter.  "Dysfunctional Advisee-Advisor Relationships: Methods for Negotiating Beyond Conflict."
April 24, 1998.

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