Good leaders in the workplace are also expected to love, honor, cherish, and effectively communicate through crisis and conflict. It is no wonder conflict in organizations is so difficult to understand. When it comes right down to it, we may feel that we’re asked to adhere to similar levels of respect and commitment with those who merely work with us (and who we may not even like all that much), as we are with those we love.
In organizations, two types of conflict are prevalent: tangible and intangible. Tangible conflicts generally involve physical or observable assets such as a division over resources or allocation of funds. This type of conflict can usually be resolved through a process called negotiation. In this article we will discuss conflict generated by intangible issues. Those cover a range of interpersonal and behavioral traits such as attitude, cooperation, respect, and trust.
As Christian leaders we may be inclined to “turn the other cheek” or choose avoidance altogether in the name of brotherly/sisterly love. But is this the best way to edify and minister to those in our care? Biblically speaking, addressing the critical behavior demonstrates love, reveals truth, and provides opportunity for personal and organizational growth.
Micah 6:8 asks, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”
In Matthew 5:24 we’re instructed to go and reconcile with our brother before presenting our offering to the Lord.
And in Luke 17:3, we are directed to reproach a fellow brother or sister if they have committed an offense against us.
In a quest to confidently and lovingly address conflict in our work and ministry relationships, we will take a brief look at five steps toward P-E-A-C-E.
This involves learning to respond and not react. In this primary step we take time to stop and think through the issue, asking ourselves: “Is this conflict occurring because we do not have the same end goal in mind, or are we striving for the same outcome but disagreeing on the way to achieve it?” The idea is to establish a parallel mindset.
As believers, we must not neglect the fact that we have a powerful tool in prayer. The Bible has left many examples for us to consider and follow. Nehemiah comes to mind, and the example he led through his dedicated and fervent prayers. Nehemiah’s commitment and steadfast approach to prayer provided wisdom and perseverance as he completed the task of building the wall, and orchestrated the people in his care (Nehemiah 1: 4-11, 2:4, 4:9, and 6:9).
Express the need to talk
Here we signal the need to have a conversation with the other. Oftentimes as leaders, we are guilty of mulling over difficult conversations in our head, and when we set forth to deliver the words, we are disappointed by the reaction of the other (whether that be a lack of response or a defensive tone). What we need to remember is that we’ve had time to think about the conversation and the other party may not have even known the discussion was coming, so wasn’t prepared to appropriately respond.
One of the first places we’re taught to search the Bible for sound instruction concerning conflict is in the book of Matthew, chapter 18: “[G]o and point out their fault, just between the two of you …” (Matt. 18:15).
Good listening shows care, interest, and respect for the other. James 1:19 tells us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”
Use clarifying statements such as, “I hear you saying…” or, “Am I correct in understanding…?” to confirm that you are both standing on the same side of the house.
Effective communication in conflict requires two important skills, (1) learning to ask the right questions, and (2) knowing how to craft and deliver an “I-statement,” which frames your response in a first-person perspective.
As a leader, asking questions allows the other person to take ownership for his/her attitude or action, and reduces the perception of blame, therefore lessening the presence of defensiveness. Crafting questions that promote conversation versus condemnation, and using communication that provides space to see beyond the action or attitude in question, will often prove to be most beneficial. In many of these cases, individuals will come to see the error in their ways and self-select an appropriate action or response to the problematic situation.
In the Bible, we can read about Jesus providing example to this type of communication through his use of parables. He asks questions to guide the thought process of those with whom he is speaking. The parable of the Rich Young Ruler comes to mind (Mark 10:17-31). This young man self-selects his own consequence because he is not willing to take the steps necessary to adjust his perspective. Jesus then asks a question of the disciples, causing them to reflect and respond with a tangible act of commitment.
Establish a solution
When a particular behavior or attitude is not apparent to the individual needing correction, the leader must choose a phrase that will clearly communicate the problematic issue and its effects to the other. Using an “I-statement” can accomplish this goal. “I-statements” eliminate the “you” and reduce the risk of blame and shame.
An “I-statement” will include four parts: (1) a feeling statement, (2) identifying the problematic behavior/attitude, (3) the consequence associated with that attitude/behavior, and (4) the expected change. An “I-statement” based on the hypothetical situation of an employee failing to respond to a donor in a timely manner may be: “I feel embarrassed when I hear from a donor that she feels unappreciated. I would be disappointed if I had to reassign the donor relationship to another. I expect all donors to receive a response to their inquiry within 24 hours.”
A tremendous amount of our leadership centers on the stewardship and development of those entrusted to our care — our employees and/or volunteers. As leaders we have the privilege of modeling a process of conflict management that corrects in love, promotes dignity, and produces trust.
Will you commit with me to share a healthy view of conflict, and to engage in P-E-A-C-E in an effort to produce a workplace environment that will marry conflict with godly wisdom and effective communication?
If so, then say: “I Do.”
Wendi Dykes is a professor of Organizational Communication and Leadership at Azusa Pacific University in Southern California. This is an excerpt from the 2013 Summer edition of Outcomes Magazine. This post is an excerpt from the 2013 Summer edition of Outcomes Magazine.
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