No matter what your tendency is to do when dealing with conflict there are steps to take in resolving it.
Step One: Spot potential conflict.
Assumptions. People make assumptions about conflict based on past experience, folklore, authority figures, feeling tone, and degree of resistance to change. Factors such as age, educational level, and attitudinal flexibility will affect a person’s resistance to change.
Context. Study the context for conflict caused by prior events, personal interaction, organizations (structures and policies) within the church, and stress.
Step Two: Avoid conflict with integrity if possible, or engage potential conflict before it develops.
1. Gather more information.
2. Allow time to resolve the conflict
3. Assess the maturity of the persons involved, especially their self-confidence and willingness and ability to accept responsibility.
4. Test the emotional level of the conflict with the persons involved.
Avoiding conflict may be wise when certain conditions exist: low priority, short term, high risk, pain, despair, or guilt. Avoidance is generally not an acceptable approach if the conflict is of significant magnitude or continuing duration.
If you attempt to deal with conflict resolution in your church, don’t expect to be able to force disagreeing parties to be reconciled. God doesn’t force His reconciliation on us, and we can’t make others be reconciled. The best we can do is create an environment for reconciliation and encourage all to accept it as a gift of God. Don’t expect to find solutions in which everyone is perfectly satisfied and happy. This expectation will only intensify feelings of frustrations and anger. Don’t expect to resolve in a few hours, days, or weeks what has been brewing for months, or even years. Don’t expect to be able to bring resolution to the issues of conflict without the participation of a broader group from the congregation. Since the church now knows about the conflict, it owns the process, even through many do not understand all that is going on. Don’t expect to have an “expert” come in who will prove who is right and who is wrong, expose the villains and vindicate the innocent, so that someone can come out as the winner. The real hope is to create a situation in which all persons can find their place in the church in which they can enjoy respect, trust, involvement, and a hand in deciding the future direction of the church.
Do expect to participate in a process that is fair and healthy for the church, but not a fast process aimed at quick fixes. Do expect to establish some ground rules for conduct and appropriate behavior in the face of conflict. Do expect to go through the painful process of uncovering some unhappiness, anger, charges and counter charges, and unseemly behavior. You will not create all these things, but to work on a conflict must, of necessity, uncover them so that they can be dealt with redemptively. Do expect to have to accept lesser goals than total resolution of all the issues at once. That is unrealistic. Instead it will be necessary to have some smaller victories and leave the ultimate victory to God. Do expect to have an impact on the future mission of this church and its quality of fellowship for years to come––for good or ill. That is what really is at stake.
Step Three: Engage conflict events productively
A conflict event is an encounter between persons with differences. The response might be fight, fright, flight, or freedom. Diffuse the problem by testing awareness of the facts, explaining the history of the conflict, enlarging the conflict group by bringing others who are mature and objective, and refer the situation to the best forum for discussion, and finally delaying any action.
Step Four: Conclude the conflict through decision-making
Here the leader who is seeking to resolve the conflict has a very specific list of duties to perform:
1. State the purpose and define the problem causing the conflict. Clarify the goals or wants of various parties. Three common problems exist with defining the problem:
First – generalization that detaches the experience from the specific event that caused the problem
Second – selection which omits part of the story
Third – distortions of the truth by one or both parties
2. Outline the rules for resolving the conflict. If there can be a common agreement on the rules for resolving the conflict, a lot of the conflict will be removed. A sample set of rules might include
The purpose of the meetings is to solve conflict, not assign blame.
We will keep meeting until the conflict is resolved.
The conflict resolution results are confidential.
Each group will be willing to change.
We will all tell the truth.
We will deal with issues and not personalities.
We covenant to follow the chosen alternative.
3. Observe the emotions.
4. Engage emotions at different levels using illustrations, teaching, and testimony.
5. Reject any games attempted. A number of games or roles are sometimes attempted, such as a suffering servant, a paternal grandfather, “since I came,” or “if you really love me.” Be sure the individuals are making contact. When making contact, they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing each other. When not making contact, persons are worrying, thinking about something else, or are preoccupied.
6. Give the individuals freedom to decide by using a typical problem solving process (collect date, list options, prioritize options, depersonalize options, and develop a consensus). Search for alternatives that enable all parties to achieve as many of their goals as possible. Go slow and allow enough time for the group to assimilate the process and the decision. Start small, and pick your terrain.
The structure of a conflict is composed of the choices available to the persons and the rewards or punishments to be received from selecting a given choice. When a choice is made, it will either reinforce the existing structure or attempt to change it. There are usually more choices available than appear at first, and maybe even more than one person wants to discuss. The choice of an individual can be predicted by asking him, recalling his past behavior, putting yourself in his place and asking what you would do, or guessing what social rules that he will follow.
Step Five: Celebrate the conclusion
The conclusion will be either a win-win, a win-lose, or a lose-lose situation. The ideal is a win-win solution where, even if there are losers, they can still follow.
If a church does decide to use a consultant, here are some suggestions:
1. Must maintain neutrality
2. Must work from pre-set time of termination
3. Must provide the church with clearly defined steps and procedures
4. Must maintain confidentiality
5. Must avoid private meetings
6. Must present written report of findings and recommendations
7. Must remove himself if his judgment is impaired by bias or involvement