Developing Communication Repertoires to Address Conflict in Community Engagement Work

Emily M Janke, Rebecca Dumlao


Due to their work engaging with diverse people representing varied institutions and community settings and addressing diverse issues and topics, community engagement professionals (CEPs) must serve as boundary spanners (Child & Faulkner, 1998; Janke, 2009) across differences. Quite often, interpersonal, organizational, cultural, and other differences lead to tensions and conflict. Though CEPs enter into positions and situations in which conflict exists, or is likely to exist, few have been professionally prepared to manage interpersonal conflict. Drawing on a competence-based approach to communicating about interpersonal conflict (Cupach, Canary, & Spitzberg, 2010), this essay suggests key communication capacities, including motivation, knowledge, and skills to manage conflict, even positively transforming conflict in ways that build understanding and relationships. Conflict management is not about learning a single model or a specific script to “end all conflicts.” Instead, conflict management involves developing competency with constructive practices through intentional, sustained effort.

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