The following post was written by Dave MacNeill, Strategist for P2 Missions and World Changers
Conflict resolution can be difficult, messy and unpredictable. These sound like great reasons to avoid any type of confrontation. But if you are in any type of ministry, there will be conflict. Let me rephrase that: If you are alive, you will experience conflict. However, being a leader in ministry, you need to be the model of how to resolve conflict.
We believe the myth that avoiding conflict equals peace. When the fact is, resolving conflict equals peace. Avoidance of confrontation in conflict is a coping skill…but not a healthy coping skill. Avoidance only lengthens the resolution process and, if not resolved, leads to more unhealthy behaviors.
Chapters 5 and 18 in the book of Matthew are pretty clear about confronting and seeking reconciliation with those we have something against, as well as those who have something against us.
So, how do we move from our tendency of avoidance to leaning in and confronting the problem in order to resolve the conflict? Here are some thoughts about stepping into the world of conflict resolution.
First, know that the most loving action you can take in any conflict is to offer resolution. That is right; the most loving action is not allowing conflict to fester and grow into bitterness and division. Loving someone means confronting conflict, listening well and speaking the truth in love. Knowing that I am loving someone by diving into the conflict helps me not only enter the conversation with the right attitude, but also truly seek the best for that person through the resolution process. Holding the relationship above the conflict will start the conversation in the right place: “I value you and our relationship more than this conflict and I want to make sure we are okay moving forward. Can we discuss ___________________?”
Second, listen well. Too many times we come into a confrontation already having had the conversation in our mind…over and over. We have predetermined what they will say, how they will say it and the best way we will defeat their argument. In essence we have come with our idea of how the conversation will go and are usually not willing to allow it to be organic and fluid based on the real conversation. Put down your defenses and listen. Listen to what they say and allow for your opinion of the situation to be changed. Listen for opportunities to agree with the person. Listen for ways you may have contributed to the conflict. Listen for ways to speak truth in love. Listen for the opportunity to reconcile.
Third, keep to the facts and do not allow an assumption of motives to creep into the conversation. Many times when we have a conflict with someone we attach the most negative motive to their action. I have entered into many conflict resolution conversations to find out that their motives were not to harm me, the process, or the team. The majority of the time your Pastor, co-worker, volunteer, parent or student is not intentionally seeking to harm you or your relationship. Often they are just as upset that this conflict exists and glad that the issue is being addressed even if it feels uncomfortable. However, if truly malicious motives appear, Matthew 18 speaks great wisdom about adding people into the conversation for accountability and healthy resolution.
Finally, seek resolution in a God-honoring way. God desires for restored relationships. This does not mean throwing away accountability or appropriate consequences. This does mean that we hold the relationship high, above all else. In the midst of this conflict always offer a restored relationship. Offer sincere apologies where needed. Offer firm boundaries. Offer a path to reconciliation. Offer grace. Offer assistance. Offer to walk with the person through the consequences. Remember, the most loving action you can take is to seek peace through conflict resolution. Remember to be loving in the process.
One resource that has been very helpful to me is the book, Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler¹. You may see a thread of this book in my thoughts as it has been formative in how I try to enter conflict resolution.
What conflict are you avoiding? Time to step into the difficult conversation.
¹ Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill, 2011.