Conflict is something we have all experienced in our lives (whether we like it or not). As adults we can reflect on situations where our reactions may have ranged from assertive to passive and in some instances, aggressive in manner. The way we manage conflict can differ according to the situation and the people involved.
I have recently read an article titled, ‘Is your daughter a shark, turtle or an owl?’ Written by Michael Grose, one of Australia’s leading parental educators, author of 12 books and former teacher with a Masters in Educational Studies. He explains that one of the big differences between girls and boys lies in how each gender handles conflict. Typically, boys are more likely to manage peer or sibling conflict physically while girls often get very personal or they avoid it altogether. We often feel uncomfortable with the physical side of boys’ conflict but generally the conflict finishes as quickly as it begins. Sworn enemies one minute, best mates the next.
Helping girls manage conflict is more complex. Conflict with a peer or sibling tends to linger longer taking up unwanted mind space, wasting the emotional energy that should be directed towards academic engagement and social interactions.
Grose continues in his article to state that girls typically handle conflict in one of three ways – like a shark (aggressively), a turtle (passively) or an owl (assertively). Each style is outlined below:
Shark (Aggressive) - A shark is intent on winning. This style is aggressive and, like its namesake, relies on power and intimidation. Shark behaviours include a raised voice, shouting, physical contact, threats and name calling. Sharks often get what they want but often at the cost of meaningful close relationships.
Turtle (Passive) - A turtle hides in its shell when conflict arises. Typically turtles don’t express their feelings or their needs, accommodating others rather than standing up for themselves. They express opinions apprehensively indicating, by their body language or choice of words (‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, ‘not sure but let’s see’), that they don’t expect others to take notice of their needs. When treated unfairly they retreat into themselves experiencing frustration, anxiety and even sadness.
Owl (Assertive) - An owl deals with conflict without avoiding the issues. An owl asserts her rights and needs in positive ways and does their utmost to resolve problems, rather than just gain a personal win. An owl uses strong body language; chooses her words wisely and remains in control when resolving conflict. The strength of owl behaviour is that girls are able to deal with an issue by honestly expressing how they feel and asking for what they want. They use assertive communication strategies rather than high power (aggression) and passive (acceptance) when they experience situations of conflict with peers and/or siblings.
Depending on the circumstances and the people involved, girls will demonstrate any of the above three styles to manage a situation of conflict. For example, a girl could be a shark to her younger sibling; a turtle with older girls at school or an owl with a parent (as she feels she can express herself comfortably within the home environment). It’s important for us to recognise these differences but at the same time encourage our girls to become more assertive (owl-like) over time in a variety of situations.
Learning to use I-statements can empower girls to take responsibility for communicating how they feel. I-statements help girls to express their feelings appropriately without being aggressive or intimidating. By taking the approach of stating the situation, how it made them feel and why and providing a suggestion on how to move forward can benefit both sides of a conflict situation.
Deputy Principal - Students