In the course of everyone’s interaction with others, there will come times when something arises between parties that threaten to destroy the cohesion of the relationship. In some cases you may just choose to let it go and move on. There are other times when the value of the relationship is paramount to accomplishing some of your goals. Such is the case with members from your online college groups. Maintaining harmony between group members ensures that your project can roll forward more smoothly and with the greatest benefit for all.

One of the greatest lessons I am learning over and over again is that people need to feel understood. Sometimes it has nothing to do with others accepting the validity of an idea, but rather just being heard. The principle taught by Steven Covey in his landmark book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is paramount when seeking to prevent conflict before it even begins: Seek first to understand and then be understood. This kind of approach is one that is not often experienced in interpersonal relationships.

How often do you see one person just waiting to jump in while another is sharing something with them? How often do you do it yourself? The next time you are in a conversation, make sure you understand the other person before presenting your point, it may just change your mind. To be sure you heard correctly what the other was saying try restating what you heard. This gives them to accept or rephrase their point.

Even when trying to understand others there will arise misunderstandings or disagreements. If the disagreement is about what topic your group is going to select, you may present the best ideas to your professor to get some direction or feedback on it. If this doesn’t resolve the issue, ask the professor to choose a topic for you.

Always ask for clarification if you feel offended. Chances are not likely that someone meant to give offense in something they said. Respond politely by letting them know what message you got from their statement and follow with something that gives them the benefit of the doubt like, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it that way.” Sometimes blatantly offensive things can be said in moments of stress. Do your best to diffuse things that you know aren’t related to your actual project. If something was said that deals with your role in the group, take some time before responding to consider the truthfulness of the statement. It may be offensive because it’s true. If you haven’t been working on the project and meeting deadlines there may be some frustration from others in the group, especially if their role is dependent upon something you promised to do. If you are going to apologize, make sure that you follow it up with a commitment to step it up. Don’t wait too long before responding if the message came in email, but don’t do it so quickly that you are still steaming.

One last thing about offense; if someone offended you in a public setting, don’t retaliate in public. You will be much more likely to resolve things if you don’t put them on the spot. Take them aside later (in an email or chat) and let them know how you feel. Be sure to let them know too that you want to work things out.

Emotions can get high in your online college group settings, but spend some time up front meeting and getting to know your group members, establishing and meeting expectations, and seeking first to understand before being understood. These skills coupled with a little patience and forgiveness can go a long way in maintaining harmony in your group and keeping you on task.

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