Discussion: The Unspoken Conflict

The Unspoken Conflict

The Situation


Gordon University is a medium-sized public college on the East Coast. The students at Gordon University

are very diverse. Some of them have come to college directly from high school, while others have been in

junior college before starting at G.U. Other students are older. They are coming back to school after being

in the workforce for several years.


Each semester, the Management Department at Gordon University offers a class called “Teams and

Teamwork.” This class requires students to work in groups to complete four case studies over the course

of a sixteen-week semester. The purpose of the case studies is to help students learn to analyze business

situations, but also to improve their interpersonal skills; especially communication, planning, problem

solving, conflict resolution, and decision making. Cases are graded on three areas: 1) quality of analysis,

2) quality of solutions, and 3) team process. Team process grades are based on individual group member

feedback about other group members. Students are also given multiple choice tests of their individual

knowledge of theories.


Students tend to have one of two reactions to “Teams and Teamwork.” If they have been working for

awhile, they know about the kinds of team and communication problems they have encountered in the

workplace, and are eager to learn new skills for dealing with them. These students want to focus on the

case studies, and spend a good deal of time analyzing the team for their team evaluation grade. Younger

students often see the class as “common sense” and they view it as just one more requirement they must

complete before graduation. These students are typically less interested in doing group work, thinking

that if they can just pass the tests, it will be enough to get a decent grade in the class.


It is now three-quarters of the way through the semester, and Team “Sparkle” has a large case (worth one-

quarter of their grade) due next week.


The Students


Valerie Lee is a 20-year-old student who came to G.U. straight from high school. She is majoring in

Accounting. She has had great success for the past four years at George State University, and currently

maintains an ‘A’ average. From Valerie’s perspective, as long as the case gets written correctly, nothing

else matters. Valerie is taking five other classes in addition to “Teams and Teamwork.” This constitutes a

very heavy workload, and as a result, she doesn’t want to spend any more time than she has to on the class.

The easiest and fastest way for Valerie to get her work done is to do it herself. She often volunteers to type

the final draft of a case study, because that way she feels that she can control the quality of the work. Valerie

doesn’t like conflict, and will often deny that there is a problem instead of addressing it.


Samantha Sobel is 35 years old, and is returning to G.U. to complete a degree that she started 18 years ago.

After high school, Samantha started college, but was soon offered a high-paying sales position. Having

just gotten married, Samantha didn’t feel like she could turn the job down. Now, after 16 years on the job,

she has realized that she needs a degree to advance in the company. Samantha believes that there is nothing

more important than building a good team, and she wants to spend time talking about how the team is doing

things, in addition to just getting the job done. At the beginning of the semester, she noticed that Valerie

and Steve, another team member, were good friends outside of class. Valerie and Steve often sat together

in class (often apart from the rest of the group) and they have left the last two group meetings early.

Samantha is concerned because she sees their behavior as an indication that they are withdrawing from the





Steve Eggers is 25. He worked for a few years after high school at a fast-food restaurant, and then went to

junior college for two years. When he first arrived at G.U. he met Valerie in his Accounting class. He has

tried to take as many classes as he can with Valerie ever since then, because the two of them work well on

their Accounting homework. Steve is a natural communicator – he gets along well with most people, and

always finds something funny to say when he thinks a situation is getting too tense. He likes both Valerie

and Samantha, but he feels like he knows Valerie better because he has been spending more time with her.


Today the group is meeting to discuss their final case study. Their final case is due in two week’s time, and

they need to decide how they are going to write it.



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