MSc Mediation and Conflict Resolution Gordon McKinlay

Tell us a bit about yourself...

I have worked in the public sector for well over thirty-five years. I started my career as a science teacher after graduating with a physics degree from Strathclyde and more recently in a variety of management and leadership roles in a local authority focusing on services for children. I live on the south side of Glasgow with my wife and am a father and grandfather with three grown-up children and four wonderful grandsons.

What inspired you to further your studies?

As a senior leader and manager, a large part of my work involves building and developing the skills, confidence and competence of our team as well as dealing with some of the more challenging areas of conflict which can emerge in the workplace. I had initially considered undertaking a short course that would enhance some of my skills in dealing with conflict early. However, through working with a great professional coach I began to realise that my leadership role would be enhanced by seeking to do more than merely responding to issues. This led me to explore what might be appropriate in my context and a couple of chance conversations led to my enrolment on the MSc programme.

Why did you choose to study for a Masters in Mediation & Conflict Resolution?
Although conflict is a normal part of being part of any human community, I am disappointed when I have to deal with its fall out in the workplace. As a strategic leader within our organisation I was seeking to review our very formal and procedural approaches to dealing with discipline and grievance. Too often I was left dealing with the damage caused by not engaging with issues early enough. When the opportunity arose to consider undertaking further study I was struck by the relevance of the MSc programme with a range of modules which I would find of great personal and professional benefit.

What attracted you to Strathclyde specifically?
Having worked with the education faculty at Strathclyde for a number of years providing professional learning for our teachers and undertaking my first degree here, I was familiar with the university. This first hand experience led me to look at what might be on offer. I also received a personal recommendation for the course from a colleague.

What was the highlight of your time at Strathclyde?
I absolutely loved my time at Strathclyde. Taking the time to think deeply, read widely and engage with others has proved to be extremely valuable. The combination of approaches to learning have been challenging with a real highlight being the practical workshops associated with the practice of mediation. The opportunity to volunteer with the mediation clinic has also provided valuable experience outwith my normal setting which I could never have gained in any other way.

Tell us about your dissertation research.
I was interested in better understanding how we engage with conflict in the workplace and the huge impact it can have on organisational culture and productivity. Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is seen as having a positive impact on resolving conflict early. However, once formal grievance procedures have started, there is often the perception that already strained relationships will become irreparably damaged. As a result, I looked at the potential benefits and drawbacks of a mediative approach for managers seeking to reduce the negative, corrosive and long-lasting impact of power imbalances and struggles in formal grievance processes.

Did you come across any challenges during your studies, and how did you overcome them?
The challenge of balancing the time demands of a full-time and highly demanding job alongside part-time study cannot be underestimated. Whenever I take on a challenge I want to do it well. Trying to find a balance between the time constraints of work and my wish to read widely in preparation for the taught elements of the course was a significant undertaking. Although I undertook the course on a part-time basis, I still found this could stretch me at certain points.

What would be your advice for people considering taking this course?
Whether or not you want to be a mediator, this course provides an excellent opportunity to become more confident in engaging positively in conflict situations in the workplace. Leaders and managers in all setting will benefit from developing their understanding and honing their professional skills in dealing with challenging workplace situations.

What do you think of the support available?

Having not undertaken any study since my undergraduate programme, I was not sure what to expect when I enrolled. However, I found the support provided by the university to be exactly what I needed. Being encouraged to think for myself and question my understanding has had a significant impact on my depth of understanding and practice. The tutors are very approachable and supportive and gave a great grounding in helping me to acclimatise to further study at postgraduate level.

What are you doing now and what are your ambitions for the future?

I continue to undertake my role at work and we are still grappling with the challenges of conflict in the workplace. However, I am so much better equipped to deal with things earlier and am able to reflect much more deeply about pressing and challenging issues. I am continuing to learn and reflect on my practice and who knows, perhaps one day I might think about further study.