Managing Conflict


Some Comments and Resources

1. Matthew 18:15 – 17
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

People in the Church often say that we have to follow scriptural guidelines for dealing with conflict and frequently refer to the above verses in Matthew as the procedure to be followed. But sometimes Matthew is not explicit to the matter at hand or even hinting at it. Then we have to go beyond Matthew into other sections of scripture and sometimes develop procedures and strategies that will deal with matters in a Christian manner.

Consider the questions below:

  • What if when you take two or three, your brother or sister also brings two or three?
  • what if there are two sides but there are more than two involved in the conflict from the beginning?
  • what if there are more than two sides, and more than two or three involved in the conflict?
  • what if you are afraid to approach the person because he/she is bigger, smarter, more important and you do not know what to say or how to say it? what if the other person is a bully?
  • what if the pastor is involved in the conflict?
  • what if your brother or sister has wronged someone else (not you)?
  • what if your brother or sister has committed some grievous wrong?
  • what if your brother or sister willfully continues sinning?

Conflict is usually not black and white, not clearly right or wrong and not simple to resolve. Our constitution and bylaws provide guidance with respect to various matters and our Mutual Ministry Handbook provides an additional framework. But there are other resources out there and certain skilled people within the Church who we should be seeking and perhaps training in matters of conflict management. Mediation, negotiation, communication and problem solving skills are essential. Clearly defined processes that deal with such things need to be in place at the congregational level so that matters of potential conflict can be dealt with at the lowest level and earliest stage, even before conflict might arise.

2. Synod Constitution and Bylaws

3. Congregational Constitution and bylaws

4. Synod On-line Resources

5. Congregational Mutual Ministry Committee Handbook (Published by the Alberta Synod – ELCIC, revised 2006)

This resource is a good one but each congregation needs to put a Handbook in place for its own Mutual Ministry Committee. In order to deal with all areas of responsibility the Committee needs to have its affairs in order and well laid out, especially for when conflict arises.

For example:

  • regular meeting schedules need to be adopted
  • timelines and processes need to be outlined especially with respect to handling conflict.
  • roles and responsibilities of individuals and the Committee need to be clearly spelled out. Who is contacted about what and when? What will that individual do and what will the timelines be? etc.
  • specific indication of what will be done when and if a conflict is resolved or what will be done under what circumstances if it is not
Some Other Bits of Information

Some Conflict Management Processes:

  • Mediation
  • arbitration
  • binding arbitration
  • autocratic authority
  • negotiation

Some Essentials to Problem Solving:

  • defining the problem
  • finding solutions
  • commitments to action

A Few Conflict Types:

  • intrapersonal – within an individual
  • interpersonal – between two people wiht very different perspectives, approaches, communication styles and/or goals
  • misunderstandings
  • power struggles
  • differences in beliefs, values or priorities
  • competition

Substantive Conflict:
Conflict focused on ideological issues that define the basis for our commitment to a cause or a group.

Workplace Conflict: 9 Tips for Managers
(From the Business Management Daily Website)

Conflict happens in all corners of the workplace. But if issues aren’t settled, bad things can happen: good people quit, morale can plummet and sometimes, violence can erupt.

But supervisors and managers don’t need to become certified mediators to engage in workplace conflict resolution. You just need to understand some basics about human behavior, practice the fine art of paying attention and offer yourself as a neutral party who wants to resolve the problem.

Here are nine insights and tricks of the trade, according to the book Improvisational Negotiation by Jeffrey Krivis:
1. Let people tell their story. When people are deeply upset about something, they need to get their story out. This is a basic principle of mediation and one that’s important to remember.

Yes, allowing people to speak their minds can increase the level of conflict with which you must deal. that’s OK. You have to get through the conflict phase to find the solution. Sometimes, feeling that he’s finally “been heard” can dramatically change an angry person’s outlook. Plus, as the employee tells the story, new information may come to light that allows a solution to emerge naturally.

2. Bring a reality check to the table. Often in a conflict, the parties are so focused on minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture and its implications. as the mediator, you need to bring people back to reality by wrenching their attention away from the grain of sand and having them focus on the whole beach. Doing so may help resolution arrive at a startling speed.

3. Identify the true impediment. In every conflict, ask yourself: “What is the true motivating factor here? What is really keeping this person from agreeing to a solution?”

When you can identify the impediment, then you can predict how the person will respond to certain ideas and you can shape negotiations accordingly.

4. Learn to “read minds”. Mind-reading is not magic. It is a combination of observation and intuition, which is born of experience. You can learn a lot about how each party sees a dispute by paying attention to body language and listening closely not only to their words but also to the emotional tone behind their words.

5. Think creatively about ways people can cooperate rather than clash. In every negotiation, there is a tension between the desire to compete and the desire to cooperate.

Be on the lookout for signals that support a cooperative environment. That’s where the most creative solutions are born.

6. Take the spotlight off someone if he or she refuses to budge. Isolation tends to create movement. when you mediate a multiparty conflict, you’ll often discover that one person insists on taking a hard-line approach, refusing to compromise and shooting down every solution presented.

The suggestion: Take the attention off the “last man (or woman) standing” and begin settling around that person. You’ll find that the holdout starts to anxiously call and send e-mails, trying to get things going again. When his or her perceived power is neutralized, the balky negotiator quickly sees the value of compromise.

7. “Edit the script” to help people see their situation in a different light. People tend to get stuck in their positions because they’re telling what happened from a narrow viewpoint and in a negative and hopeless tone. They can’t see the situation any other way unless you help them to do so.

As the mediator, you can take a larger view that looks not at one party or the other “winning” but at both parties working toward a mutual goal. One way to do that is to edit their script. Re-tell their story about the dispute in a positive, forward-looking construction.

In that way, you literally give them the words to see their options in a new light.

8. Avoid the “winner’s curse” by carefully pacing negotiations. Believe it or not, it’s possible to reach a solution too quickly.

We all have an inner clock that lets us know how long a negotiation should take. When a deal seems too easy, a kind of buyer’s remorse can set in. One or both parties may be left feeling that if things had moved more slowly, they might have cut a better deal. Don’t rush the dance or the negotiation will fall.

Even when you know you can wrap up things quickly, it’s to everyone’s advantage to keep the negotiation proceeding normally, for a reasonable amount of time, before the inevitable settlement.

9. Realize that every conflict can’t be solved. What if you’ve tried to help two warring factions find a fair solution, but you just can’t reach that elusive goal? That can happen, and often does. Not every negotiation will have a win/win outcome. Not everyone can live together in harmony.

There are times when you just have to accept that both parties will leave the table equally unhappy. Isolate the participants if possible, and just move on.

Website Resources

Synod of Alberta and the Territories we believe/we lutherans

Considering a Mutual Ministry Committee – Synod Document…

Peacemaker Ministries…. to Choose a Christian Conciliator.htm

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans

Living Lutheran…

Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Cross statement.php

Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society

Advancing the Judeo-Christian Model of Peacemaking

Mediation Training Institute International (MTI)

ADR Institute of Canada

Mediation and Conflict Management Book by Gregorio Billikopf, University of Canifornia (download over 300 pages free)
This covers deep-seated conflicts between peers, as well as a separate model for supervisor-subordinate conflict management and mediation.

Alberta Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches

Mediation Process Suggested by The Rev. Doug Hanson-Torwalt

The Rev. Doug Hanson-Torwalt, a trained conflict mediator in the Synod, suggests these steps in mediation:

  • Gather those who are dealing with the problem;
  • Establish some ground rules – e.g. speak only for yourself; don’t interrupt, maintain confidentiality…
  • Use “I” statements in explaining the situation, e.g. “I feel…” or “I understood…”
  • summarize the statements each made and repeat them back
  • Thank both for what they’ve brought to the discussion
  • Determine what the real issue is – is it really about ‘who took the sandwich I left in the frig’ or is about boundaries?
  • Determine the interests – i.e. why is this issue important?
  • Brainstorm some solutions with them;
  • Thank them for their willingness to work on this;
  • Book about three hours for this process;
  • Come to an agreement – could include consequences;
  • May invite participants to a service of reconciliation

Please call the Synod Office for information on contacting Pastor Doug if you wish to contract him to assist your congregation in reaching a resolution. Fees negotiable.