Learning from Conflict

I’ve been avoiding him for about nine months.  We’ll call him Sam (not his real name).  Sam has been volunteering on our team for 18 years and I’ve been here for nine months.  Do the math, he has seniority.  I am the “leader” but he’s been here longer. Sam is a good guy but in my opinion has an “old school” mentality when it comes to church.  When it comes to “method of communication” we don’t always see eye to eye.  So, I’ve let him sort of do things his way with his small group and he hasn’t said much about how I do large group (my main role on Sunday).  We’ve sort of both avoided each other.  Not a healthy way to handle conflict by the way.

A few weeks ago, he wanted to set up a date to talk.  I didn’t have a good feeling but knew it was time that we did. He had a list of concerns.  Many of which I had already been thinking about changing.  Little things.  So far, all was going pretty good.  Then he brought up something we disagreed about.  He gave his side of it and I gave my side.  Then he said, “I respectfully disagree.” We basically agreed to disagree and moved on.

The mark of a good follower is to be able to “respectfully disagree.”  Not everyone can do that though.  Many will complain to everybody else in the church about the situation without ever going to the leader.  And if they do go to the leader not getting the desired outcome, many will continue to complain behind the leaders’ back.  Not Sam though.  When you have someone like Sam, he is a great asset to your team.  Maybe one day you can get him to see things your way.  But then again maybe not.  Maybe Sam is here to get me to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider my way of thinking.  Because maybe I am wrong.  I will consider his way when he comes to me in humility.  But I will be on the defensive if he comes yelling and screaming.

So, what do you do when you have a complainer in the group?  What if you have the opposite of a Sam?  It doesn’t take you long being on staff at any church to come across people like that.  Here’s what I’ve done in the past.

1.  Address the situation right away.  If you here about somebody being unhappy.  Call them or talk to them right away.  Ask them if there any concerns and allow them the opportunity to talk to you about them.

2.  Consider their point of view.  Even if they’re yelling and screaming, think about what they’re saying.  Don’t simply react.  I know, easier said then done, right?

3.  Repeat back to them what you thought they said.  Make sure you really heard them.

4.  After consider their thoughts, communicate to them your side of the situation.  If they still don’t agree, ask them to agree to disagree.

5.  Give it some time and see how they react.  Are they moldable and open to change?  Are they showing signs of being able to “respectfully disagree.”  If so, they can be a great asset to your team.  If not, consider taking the next step.

6.  At some point it is possible that you’ll have to ask a team member to stop volunteering.  I have had to do that in the past.  If they can’t go along with your leadership decisions, there is no reason for them to be on the team.  If you get to this point, talk to your supervisor and get some guidance.  It is always helpful to have someone else walk with you if it gets to this point.

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