Conflict is sadly inherent to all groups of people working, living, or even briefly interacting with one another. Life at the University of Tartu is no different, and it is almost a certainty that at some point during your time here you will have to work with individuals who will cause you a seemingly undue amount of stress. The three tips that I am writing below might not necessarily work for everybody, or in all instances, but I believe that they are effective general guidelines for preparing to approach and successfully manage these stressful interactions.

I am sure that you can imagine (or perhaps have even experienced) a tense working situation like this. The feeling of time at once flowing too slowly, as seconds seem to drag on, and too quickly, as the looming deadline you and your group or team members are striving to meet approaches. Perhaps it is you, or another group member, who makes a suggestion that is unexpectedly taken the wrong way. Tempers flare, hurtful statements are flung around, and the work session takes a turn for the worse. It might continue on for the rest of the night with a new sense of dread hanging over the group members, or abruptly terminate with seemingly little hope of reconciliation between aggrieved parties. What should you try to do next?

Tip 1: Distance yourself

That does not necessarily mean ignoring what happened, but rather giving yourself space to calm down and react appropriately. Managing stress is vital for succeeding in your studies (and in most aspects of life) in general. In the wake of significantly stressful events like interpersonal conflicts, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are feeling as calm and collected as possible before proceeding. Before taking any concrete actions, make sure that you are in a sound state of mind to formulate an approach. Everybody has different activities and habits that they enjoy doing to calm themselves down: I personally enjoy taking walks around the city to calm myself down. All of the pictures that you will see in this blog post were taken by me during my walks, and I hope that they will also impart a sense of serenity upon you as I continue to discuss a fairly tense subject.

The city really do have a certain tranquil atmosphere to it, especially at night. I especially love these old cobblestone roads don’t really have anything like them at home.

Tip 2: Empathy First!

It is far too easy to listen to the adrenaline and negative sensations flowing through your body during and after such an incident and interpret it the incident as an attack launched by a friend turned foe. As difficult as doing so will be (especially in the heat of the moment), try to understand that different people react to stress within teams in different ways. Some people might lash out for fear of being perceived as a weak or incompetent member of the group. Others might feel like they have no other of relieving the tremendous amount of pressure they face. I am not trying to say that you should make excuses for them, after all, your first obligation is to yourself and ensuring that you are in a decent working environment. However, trying to understand where they might be coming from or feeling is typically an excellent way to avoid considering them as nothing more than an enemy. It costs nothing to try to understand the difficulties people might be facing in life and can help you feel less apprehensive about working with them again in the future.

You never know what you might see when you are out and about. Just look at these ducks, for example. I wonder what they are congregating for?

Tip 3: Reach Out

Communicating might seem like a daunting proposition following the precipitating incident but can make a huge difference to the individual who lashed out. It does not necessarily have to be a substantial effort on your part, but even asking if they are feeling okay or need to talk might lead to a positive outcome. It is likely that, if they are an individual who does not frequently seek out conflict in their daily life, they are feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable with working with the group again following their outburst. Expressing some concern might provide the positive sign that they need to continue their work, that while such an incident should not be repeated again, it also was not a death knell for the future prospects of the group.

And look at this tubby little fellow. He was watching me walk on by, although his friend was a bit more apprehensive!

Tip 4: Forgive and Forget

Your experiences with the empathetically driven approach I recommended might vary. Hopefully, you will be able to help reconcile with the person who instigated the tension and help encourage the return of positive group dynamics. If that is the case, it is best to forgive and forget what has happened, to not let it permanently alter your personal feelings toward that person. However, it is also very much possible that such reconciliation will not occur, that the rift created between you and that person cannot be healed. In that circumstance, as difficult as it might be, try to finish the work as efficiently as possible, reach out to your lecturer if necessary, should this tension affect the quality of work produced by your group. In either instance, holding on to negative memories will only continue to hurt you long after the fact.

And as the holidays approach, the city becomes even brighter and more beautiful. You never know what displays you might come across!

While you will almost certainly encounter some form of tension working with people at the University, do not let it dissuade you. Such interactions are commonplace, and for the most part, my own experiences working with others here have been wonderful! I hope that my tips will help you feel more comfortable and confident about dealing with such interpersonal conflicts, should they arise.