Conflict: Understanding the Problem

While in central Ohio this weekend, I had lunch with an old friend who recently stepped into his second pastoral position. He had spent that week at a conference on conflict mediation. Conflict is something my friend is familiar with, his first pastoral position was wrought with tension among members, which put deep strain on an already small church. I asked him to summarize what he had learned at the conference in thirty seconds; he condensed it to two minutes. I'll squish it into a sentence. The first step in resolving conflict is to get both sides to understand (from the other side's perspective) why there is conflict.

Doing this, he was told, is about asking a ridiculous amounts of back and forth questions like, "What do you think he just said?" "Do they have it right? Did you just say that?" You just keep moving in circles like this until someone says "They are angry because....." and the other person says, "Yes that's exactly it." All the while keeping both sides in a calm and thoughtful posture.

Laborious. Painstaking. Easier said than done.

It is difficult to listen to others, to understand why they do what they do. And so we bypass the person, fighting ideas that they might not even adhere to. We assume that everyone communicates in precisely the same way. I have been married long enough to kick my head back and belt a raucous laugh at how obvious that statement should be.

The place to begin with conflict is to acknowledge that resolution will primarily be a difficult and intentional effort to understand the other. Then and only then can true resolution come. If you are primarily concerned with winning, you won't do anything but pat yourself on the back.