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Personal Reflections on Conflict

Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue the leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. 

ConflictI. MY EXPERIENCE WITH CONFLICT

My experience with conflict is that I often want to resolve it once I know it has occurred, but I hesitate to do actions or say things that I know will cause conflict. I have had conflict in life, but often the conflict I experience is with a boss at work which means that I have to submit. I can push back (if the area and time are appropriate) and share what my thoughts are, but the ultimate decision-making authority is not mine. This has been tough because it affects how assertive I am on a regular basis which then affects my character and personality while at work. One book says that “conflicts at work present important challenges that affect your career development” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 4). This definitely has been the case with me as an employee at the United Way of Stanislaus County where I have learned to create conflict when necessary while also having to back down from conflict in order to show respect and support for my boss.

Growing up, I saw my mom in conflict with my dad on many occasions. However, observing the positive conflicts they worked through later in their marriage has helped me to realize that it is ok to work through conflict once it has already been created. I definitely feel my family life has oriented me into types of conflict now that I know “our family of origin socializes us into constructive or destructive ways of handling conflict….” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 2).

As an introverted young man, I avoided conflict. I would hold my tongue, not speak my mind, and not take a physical action if it meant it might create conflict. And if I did anything that caused conflict, I would often apologize too quickly and too often. On the flip side, when I was in second and third grades, I often got into physical fights with other boys when we had a conflict. I do not remember much of this, but that might be another way I dealt with conflict as a young boy.

II. CONFLICT IN MINISTRY

I believe that conflict is going to happen in anything you do. When you have people working together as a team towards a common goal, conflict is going to come up, especially as you mix in different age groups, sexes, philosophies, theologies, and leadership styles. When conflict does come up, I believe that violence should never be allowed or excused. Sometimes I think we try to excuse violence with the passion God has given us as if it stems from a supposedly good quality that we have. However, violence—whether it be is physical, verbal, or psychological—should not happen. If conflict does happen, we need to work on developing healthy habits to allow positive conflict resolution to happen.

In a Christian Ministry and Leadership class, my faith might (and should) play a role in the beliefs I have shared about conflict. My beliefs about conflict have slightly been shaped by faith within the church context by the positive and negative examples I have observed in churches. I have seen positive examples where church leaders and members knew they had a difference on an issue, and they consciously took time to talk about it, gather a mediator to assist, and even attend counseling together as a way to deal with church issues. Those have been some great examples of how the church positively works through conflict in a biblical and practical way.

However, I have also seen examples where church leaders develop conflict and stop talking with each other, publicly oppose each other, and even fire the other person. Being a somewhat new Christian I need to take some time to think about my faith and knowledge of the Bible in order to develop my beliefs from a biblical perspective. I know there are several ways conflict is handled both positively and negatively in the Bible, and maybe that is something I can and should dedicate more time to studying and thinking about. However, I do agree with our class discussion on Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 about how to deal with conflict.

III. VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF CONFLICT

Leaders have conflict. No matter how good a leader is, conflict is an issue that leaders must learn to deal with and navigate. 

There are several values and principles that have informed my beliefs and actions about conflict.

I believe that we all can get along no matter what we are doing. I have learned from reading that “we can’t always choose the conflicts that come into our lives, but we can choose our responses to those conflicts” (Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, Making Peace with Conflict: Practical Skills for Conflict Transformation, 30). I also agree with what one professor states that “conflict is never fully and finally realized” (Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “Understanding Conflict: Introduction, Orientation, Theology” [lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 1, 2011]). Conflict is something that comes up again and again, which means we need to keep working through it. I also believe that conflict needs to be addressed quickly.

Several months ago I overheard a statement my landlords made about some lights I had sitting in the room I rent from them. As soon as I heard them talking about my lights, I guessed they might be displeased with me storing the lights in the room I rent from them. Within ten minutes I walked outside to explain to my landlord why I had a bunch of four foot long fluorescent lights in a small room. This is evidence that I want to resolve conflict when I know it exists. And finally, I believe that conflict can cause long term pain, issues, and division. Too many times I have observed conflict that was not handled well which resulted in loved family members distancing themselves from each other and coworkers leaving their jobs specifically because of one person with whom they could not manage to resolve conflict.

IV. THREE CONFLICT GOALS

I have three personal conflict related goals.

A. Have Healthy Conflict with my Supervisor

The first goal I have is to be able to effectively function in conflicts with my supervisor in a productive way so we can both look towards the goals we have and discuss how to get there. (Skill Domain—Functioning.) At work I sometimes feel that my supervisors and I have a goal to raise funds for our community; however, we have different ideas and strategies of how we think we should get there. At times, my feelings resonate with Wilmot and Hocker who write, “Too much losing [with conflict in the workplace] will not build character; it builds frustration, aggression, or apathy” (William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker, Interpersonal Conflict, 8th ed., 128). I think it is ok to lose a little bit in conflict at work, but when it happens several times a week and even several times on some days, it begins to discourage me. I believe this class will help me develop the communication skills useful for resolving and transforming conflict that I have on a regular basis at work.

B. Increase My Awareness of Conflict Styles

The second goal I have is to increase my awareness of my conflict styles, tendencies, and strategies. (Affective Domain—Awareness.) “We need to learn to manage ourselves” and“dealing with conflict starts with me” (Larry Dunn, Ph.D., “Understanding Conflict: Introduction, Orientation, Theology” [lecture, Fresno Pacific University-North Center Campus, Fresno, CA, December 1, 2011]). Thus far, as part of the exercises we have been through I have increased my awareness of my own conflict management style. I have noticed that I have a tendency to want to work through conflict when it already exists, but I also have a tendency to shy away when I need to do or say something that will create conflict. I hope to become more aware of these and other tendencies I have so I can positively work through them to improve my ability to navigate and resolve conflict.

C. Know the Theories of Conflict

The third goal I have is to have a deep understanding of the different theories and methodologies within conflict. (Cognitive Domain—Translation/Application.) For example, what power imbalances are there? What is going on? What method is best applied here? Where is power playing a part? Having a deeper knowledge of what causes conflict and the skills that it takes to deal with it will help me to translate what we learn into application to the world and areas I serve in.

 

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at ChristopherLynnScott.com.