Dealing With Conflict
Effective leadership takes time, training and experience to develop. When we commence on the journey we expect it to be hard but we don’t expect the interpersonal difficulties that hold back individuals and organisations. Conflict has been identified as one of the main reasons leaders resign their positions. So few people know how to deal with conflict and yet it is a fact of life and every relationship of substance has been developed through it. So learning the skills of conflict management maybe the most important life skill you will ever attain.
Successful relationships have nothing to do with whether or not we have conflict but how we deal with it. That will be played out differently according to the personalities, and the age group of those involved.
Author Tom Sine (1991, Wild Hope), groups people into three generational cultures and points out that each of these generations has a different way of looking at life, behaviours and attitudes.
The Boosters, born between 1927-1945, tend to sweep things under the carpet or approach conflict indirectly. The consequence of this method depending on personality; is an escalation of conflict, or suppression of it. Both have negative effects on relationships.
The Baby Boomers, born between 1946-1964, tend to bring things into the open and work toward reconciliation. Their tolerance of other viewpoints makes reconciliation easier for them than for their parent’s generation.
The Busters, 1965-1983, tend to come straight out with it, tell it as it is and look for resolution for the sake of the team. They invented the sayings “Build a bridge” “Get over it” and “Move on”
“Real wisdom (God’s wisdom, begins with holy fire and) is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one minute and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.” James 3:17, 18 (The Message Bible).
As part of a MOPS team, I can guarantee you that you will have conflict. There will be those who you will offend intentionally or unintentionally.
- Have ways that irritate.
- Always think they are right.
- Do not do the job as you would.
- Have a different work ethic.
Working harmoniously in a team requires the development of a number of skills.
“Real” relationships are cultivated by the choices and commitments we make.
Paul points out this dual responsibility when he says, “You are joined together with peace through the spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way” (Eph 4:3 (NCV).
Many of us had poor role models and teaching when it came to building relationships and dealing with conflict, but the Bible instructs us on how to do it. Paul wrote: “I am writing these instructions to you…so you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household…” (1 Timothy 3:14,15).
So how are we to conduct ourselves as leaders?
Honesty and integrity
The truth hurts, so we will often avoid, however, if the truth is told in love and a genuine concern for the well-being of those involved then you will rarely lose a true friend.
Conflict can be a relationship and character building experience, but only if lessons are learned through it. It can also be a destructive experience if relationships are terminated and mums or leaders leave MOPS as a result. If we can love the person and the group enough to be honest with those involved and bring about restoration and reconciliation then we will have achieved Christ’s desire, that we would be one even as he and the father are one (John 17:20-26).
- Fear of conflict paralyses organisations and relationships.
- It creates an environment of secrets where gossip thrives.
- It breeds resentment and hostility and unworkable situations, and …
- Creates superficial relationships.
Unfortunately if we have not been raised in a culture of truth and openness, we may be uncomfortable with honest confrontation and approach it with a wrong motive or attitude.
If conflict is handled honestly and in love, we can grow closer to one another.
An honest answer is a sign of true friendship” Proverbs 24:26 (NLT) “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (NIV).
“He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favour than he who has a flattering tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 (NIV).
We have established that you have a scriptural basis to confront disruptive, divisive or ungodly behaviours, however, you do not have permission to say whatever you please.
- Stay on the point in dispute. When someone gets defensive we may want to justify it by adding past situations.
- Do not drag up the past, or side issues to support your argument.
- Listen to their reasons for the conflict.
- Empathise with their feelings of anger, rejection or hurt but remain objective.
- Don’t get sucked into blame, or defensive behaviours.
Honesty is the responsibility of every member of the team. We cannot be complacent when we see things that are wrong, or relationships are threatened, or the harmony of the group is affected, and not confront it.
“You must not simply look the other way and hope that it goes away on its own. Bring it out into the open and deal with it…Better devastation and embarrassment than damnation…You pass it off as a small thing, but it’s anything but that…you shouldn’t act as if everything is just fine when one of your Christian companions is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy or predatory. You just can’t go along with this, treating it as acceptable behaviour. I’m not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don’t we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers?” 1 Corinthians 5:3-12 (Message Bible).
How can we minimise or avoid conflict?
Nothing builds walls, raises the hackles of others and creates conflict more than pride. It prevents the flow of grace in our lives and renders us useless in helping others in a meaningful way.
Humility, is not thinking less of your self, but rather thinking of yourself less. It is putting the needs of others before your own. It is preferring others, serving others, showing sensitivity and including others. It is being prepared to do it their way and not your own.
Conflict is usually created when two people think they are right; mind you, they probably are. Conflict is averted when one decides that their opinion is less important than harmony.
Courteous and Considerate
You can guarantee that in every MOPS group there will be at least one ‘difficult’ person. These people may have deep insecurities, poor relational skills, or irritating mannerisms. They are people who will stretch your reserves of love and tolerance. However, God allowed them to be in your life, for their benefit and for yours.
If we take the time to get to know our ‘difficult’ sisters, we may understand where they are coming from, and therefore be more tolerant and compassionate. They may have come from a dysfunctional, abusive or single parent family and may have missed the loving, balanced upbringing that gives us life’s greatest advantage.
Be prepared to listen to people, empathise or at least endeavour to understand. Trust is built through listening to those in need and it may give you an opportunity to lead and guide them in less conflicting behaviours, or be a go-between with peers.
It would be an ideal world where we were all so Christ-like that confidentiality was not required and complete transparency was the order of the day. Unfortunately where sin is present so are unforgiving and judgmental attitudes, indirect conversation and the pleasure of juicy bits of news.
“A perverse man stirs up dissension and a gossip separates close friends” Proverbs 16:38.
- Gossip always causes hurt and division and destroys relationships and trust.
- if a person cannot be trusted to keep their mouth shut, can they be trusted to tell the truth?
- Be aware that if they talk about others, they may also talk about you.
- If you listen to a gossip you are participating in their divisive behaviour.
- Ask the “gossip” if you can repeat what they have said and if you may quote their name as the source. That will test the validity and morality of what is being said.
- Don’t repeat anything you are not prepared to be honestly accountable for.
Building relationships of mutual understanding and appreciation will help to avoid conflict, but it takes time and effort.
Spend meaningful time with one another on a frequent basis in order to build deep relationships. Shallow relationships are always vulnerable to misunderstandings.
Building a close-knit team means, making the effort:
- To love the unlovely,
- To get to know the private, withdrawn and non-communicative,
- Spend time with those you are not attracted too, even when you don’t feel like it.
If you are part of a team then it is the responsibility of each member to live in spiritual and social harmony. If we are to practice true team, the time and the effort put into developing relationships will be worth it and the relationships that take the most time and patience are the ones that will in time afford us the greatest pleasures and rewards.
Think of a scenario of a conflict with a MOPS member that has had repercussions for the entire group.
Discuss how you would now handle this issue.
What attitude should we have during and after the issue has been dealt with?
What have been the results of putting these principles into action?