7 steps to conflict resolution in the church
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
For some reason, when we start to work at a church, we unconsciously expect everyone to get along and not have any conflict. That idea tends to be proven false fairly quickly. After all, while we're all followers of Christ, we're also still human (frustrating, I know).
Whatever conflicts you've experienced, the tension and resulting lack of cooperation can keep the team from being as effective as possible.
As I've led various project teams and worked with church staffs, I've made my share of mistakes in this area. After a few awkward conversations and several helpings of humble pie, here's the approach I've found to be helpful:
1. Address the issue
It's tempting to avoid conflict and hope it will go away. That doesn't work often. Instead, it's best to deal with it head-on and talk with the individual involved. Acknowledge you feel the tension and want to work with him/her to resolve it.
2. Ask what's wrong
Don't assume you know exactly why there's a conflict. Try something such as, "I'm sorry. I'm not really sure why this tension between us exists but I do want to resolve it. Can you help me understand what’s wrong?"
3. Listen intently
As Stephen Covey famously wrote, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Don't think about how you'll respond while the other person talks. Don't come up with 10 reasons why he's wrong. Simply listen and really try to understand where he's coming from.
4. Don't get defensive
You may have to listen to a 20-minute venting session. You may get accused of being insensitive, not spiritual, etc. As tempting as it is to defend yourself ... don't.
You initiated the conversation by acknowledging the tension and asking what was wrong so the two of you could work together to fix the issue. You're now hearing what the other person thinks is the problem. She might be wrong, but she likely has at least a few valid points.
Whether the other person is right or wrong isn't the key issue. The issue is what she perceives it to be. Defending yourself at this point would be counterproductive and would only add to the tension.
5. Repeat it back
"Thank you for sharing that with me. Let me make sure I heard you correctly. So you're saying the issue is ..."
Part of resolving conflict is making sure the other person involved feels understood and valued. When you take the time to listen without interrupting and you repeat back the key points he/she said, you're communicating the value you have for the other person.
6. Apologize if needed
If you (even inadvertently) offended your colleague or otherwise hurt him/her, then apologize. If he misunderstood your intent, clarify what you really meant. Don't say, "Well, you totally got that wrong." Instead, say, "I'm sorry. I must not have communicated very well. Here's what I meant ..."
7. Maintain the relationship
You may end up still disagreeing. We don't have to agree on everything to have healthy working relationships with others. Acknowledge your different viewpoints and state you want to keep the lines of communication open to maintain a positive relationship. Most people are open to that type of resolution.
Now, I can't guarantee this approach will work 100 percent of the time. However, my hope is these tips help you resolve any tension you're currently feeling with colleagues or volunteers. Dealing with conflict isn't easy, but the stronger relationships that result from resolving it are well worth the effort.
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