Ever been in a conflict?
Ever been asked how you handle conflict in a job interview?
It’s got a whole section devoted to it in our interview manual at the church.
The answer is obvious: we have all had to “manage” (side note: I had a professor in college who said we cannot even use the term “conflict resolution” because it doesn’t really exist) conflict at one point or another, more likely EVERY point AND another.
Where there are people (and words) there exists the great and infinite potential for conflict so we had better learn how to manage it.
In light of the ubiquitous nature of conflict, we had better get comfortable with its inextinguishable flame. Below I seek to give you some tools to do just that.
One of the things that inspired this week’s post was a recent church conflict down here in Southern California. Without going into too much detail, this church was a “satellite” campus, a “daughter” location of a central “parent” church location in a different city nearby.
The leadership team of the central campus had a sharp disagreement with the leader of the “satellite” campus which led to his subsequent termination (and re-hiring) and ultimately to the “satellite” campus breaking away from the “mothership” if you will.
In fact, this particular church, and their lead pastor (who is my age) had just come through the heart of the storm and decided to host a “town hall meeting”-the contents of which are on video.
When I heard they had filmed it, I scrambled to watch it. My main motivation-knowing that this pastor is my age and stage of life-was to see how he handled things, how he communicated, what questions the people asked, how he responded… the social scientist inside me abounding.
The truth is: he did a fantastic job. It seems apparent, not just from watching the film, but talking to members of the church, that this young man is a strong leader with a strong sense of identity, calling and vision. He stood by his guns while graciously and humbly “leaving well”-not slanting or bashing or breeding further damage in his departure (which by the way is far from an “overnight” process).
He was branded by fire and the beauty of conflict-because of what it produces-was on display for all to see.
So here are the learnings from this case study for better management of conflict if we are to see the beauty on the other side.
Consider their side…
I’m not a very empathetic person, but I do believe that I can fairly easily read people’s interest, motivations, wants and needs especially in conflict which is primarily driven by people’s desired outcomes. If you can pause for a couple of hours; a couple of days and consider the other side’s desired outcomes, their potion and why they are passionate about staking a claim, it will move you far quicker to resolution and productivity again.
BEAUTY: when we acquiesce and accommodate we are working toward better collaboration which are major keys for leading successful teams.
Consider your sound…
This one is similar in that you must go outside yourself, but equally valuable in that we sometimes get caught up with no accurate, unbiased opinion of how we come across-how we look, sound, seem in our verbal AND non-verbal communication. You want to understand your part to play in the conflict? Then one of the early steps is to consider how you came across.
BEAUTY: when we exercise self-awareness and perspective in this way, we embody the honesty and integrity that all great leaders must carry.
Consider the end in mind
(This is the leave well part by the way). There are countless and when I say countless I mean COUNTLESS quotes I’ve heard on this principle, but I’m figuring that’s because of its timeless worth but they range from:
‘love is a revolving door’ to
‘don’t burn the bridge you may have to cross over again’
The truth is clear: even if you think you’re right-the most right and correct and innocent person of all time-you must still resist the urge to leave poorly.
BEAUTY: all strong leaders are visionary; in so many ways managing conflict is about the willingness to forfeit battles for the sake of winning the war.
Consider coming to the table
There is no such thing as long distance conflict management, remote conflict resolution or reconciliation by proxy. Every single instance of reconciliation begins with seeing someone. All restoration begins with: eye to eye; human to human, “the same grace that we require, they require” (the young man from the church conflict above actually said this).
I’ll never forget the embodiment of this principle from the movie Avatar… “I see you” it was about solidarity because of something shared at our very core; regardless of position, rank, race, gender or any other form of difference.
BEAUTY: this ones pretty personal for me, but I truly believe that one of the greatest marks of any leader is the ability to see the value of our common humanity in ALL PEOPLE.
Don’t go to someone else’s table. In conflict we must resist the urge to talk about it with someone else other than the source! As much as we will desire to seek validation and support from our base, our friends, our typical “go-to” (who by the way you must know at some level this person has absolutely no spine or moral compass if they never offer you a tough pill to swallow, right?), at this time what we need is NOT reinforcement of “unhealth.” And that is what will happen if you stir the pot by spreading bad talk with others who are not directly involved.
BEAUTY: pretty basic here, but essentially its about self-control, patience and discipline these will breed better culture-because YOU led this way.
There’s a difference between going around and talking about it and going to 1 strategic person and seeking wisdom about it. But for your clear vision on the issue and for the sake of everyone involved-seek unbiased objective opinion.
BEAUTY: I’ll just quote proverbs 12:15 here: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”
If you’re anything like 89% of people who are conflict avoidant then your first reaction will always be, “ah man I don’t want to have to circle back around with that person and have that conversation!” The longer you wait the more anxious you’ll be and worse-if you skip conflict management altogether-you lose, your relationship with that person loses and the shared objectives are certainly lost (with a culture that fails to ever deal!).
BEAUTY: Leaders understand that when they discover pain points in their organization, they will do all things in their power to mitigate them; this requires expediency!
Who is someone you know you need to initiate conversation with right now? Consider the end in mind: what are the share objectives and which objectives are you ready to die over? Most of all, have an honest assessment of yourself, your approach and your delivery… as leaders we can afford nothing less.