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Conflict resolution skills

We were a group of five elders in a church of about 600 people. Our pastor lacked people skills and we had to figure out what to do with him. We sat around the room looking at one another. Our vote was split. We were tense. Ultimately we decided that people skills were pretty foundational to the …
By Seth Barnes
We were a group of five elders in a church of about 600 people. Our pastor lacked people skills and we had to figure out what to do with him. We sat around the room looking at one another. Our vote was split. We were tense. Ultimately we decided that people skills were pretty foundational to the role. We asked him to leave.
 
And that of course created more conflict in the church.
 
Just one experience among many where I’ve had my world rocked by conflict. And so many of those experiences were about the way the conflict started in the first place. We had to unwind that before we could get the apologies out, make up and move on. It wears you out.
 
And, it’s a normal part of life. We disagree, we lead poorly, we lack grace. Boom! Conflict.
 
Every team, if it’s any good at all, has a fair amount of conflict. The more significant the work, the greater the interpersonal friction, the more likely the conflict.
 
I was on the phone with some leaders tonight going over a team’s conflict. And I realized, “We didn’t really give them very good conflict resolution skills before we sent them to the field. We should have trained them better.”
 
Whoops. So, now we need to retro-fit some skills in the team. Thank God for Skype. And for Peacemaker Ministries, home to a great set of resources like these.
 
They advocate four basic principles: 
  • Glorify God – How can I please and honor God in this situation, and how can I give witness to what he has done for me through Christ?
  • Get the log out of your eye – How have I contributed to this conflict and what do I need to do to resolve it?
  • Gently restore – How can I help others to understand how they have contributed to this conflict?
  • Go and be reconciled – How can I demonstrate forgiveness and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?
If you’re on a team, and especially if you’re inexperienced or just lack skills (listening skills and humility for starters), I recommend reading the procedure Jesus outlines in Matthew 18.15-22.
 
Make some commitments together to implement these principles. They boil down to loving people enough to own your own issues first and then bringing up the conflict in a way that honors the other person instead of shaming them.
 
Get some feedback about your skills. If people are afraid to confront you, that’s a strong indicator that you’re a poor listener and have an ego problem. You probably don’t look like the servant leader Jesus wants you to be and the best thing you can do is get some help. Let me encourage you: It will be painful, but decide to not keep going around the mountain and taking the same test over and over again.
 
Don’t make the mistake 90% of leaders seem to make of sucking all the oxygen out of the room because of their big egos. People have too many options – they’ll get sick of your pettiness and just leave you. People work hard to preserve their sense of significance – they’ve been wounded too many times already. I
 
So, if there is a conflict, begin by owning it. Go low. Otherwise, your inability to regularly humble yourself will keep making withdrawals from your team members’ emotional tanks. When they’ve had enough, eventually they’ll move on and the body of Christ will stay broken.
 
One reason AIM has grown is that I’m willing to humble myself over and over again, each time creating space for someone else. And yes, I still fail regularly at this – I’m a work in progress like you are. God reminds me of this all the time.
 
Once you know where your skills are lacking, I suggest that you go through some case studies like these. Practice with your team. And find someone you all trust to help you sort through conflict and coach you to improve your skills along the way. When you can’t resolve your conflict, you may need to appeal to this person. Every team needs an appeal process and an accountability structure that holds leaders’ egos in check.
 
Before he died, Jesus prayed that we’d be unified. And sometimes it’s a simple lack of skills that keeps us from that goal. If you trace it all back, those lack of skills are usually replaced by a wall of defensive behavior that people erect because of their insecurities.
 
How well do you do with conflict? What’s one of the worst conflicts you’ve had? How did you resolve it?

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