Navigating conflict is one of those “comes with the territory” responsibilities of church leadership. Yet, most ministers I know, myself included, avoid conflict at all costs and only address conflict as a last resort and with great reluctance. Inevitably, failing to address the conflict early leads to even greater and unnecessary issues that eventually requires the leader’s diplomacy.
As with most aspects of leadership, I have discovered that having a pre-determined structure and plan for handling conflict is helpful in building my confidence, prompting me to take action, and in successfully resolving conflict. I have written before about conflict resolution structures I’ve found to be worthwhile:
George Bullard, President and Strategic Coordinator with The Columbia Partnership, provides yet another helpful conflict resolution structure he calls Four Pathways to Yes!
Four Pathways to Yes!
A typical conflict and problem solving approach may focus on where participants disagree rather than where they agree. Bullard discovered though that creating a framework of dialogue that affirms what is right, rather than what is wrong about a given proposal or idea has a much greater likelihood of success. His Four Pathways to Yes! is a collaborative model that allows the church leader to effectively handle a variety of conflict scenarios.
Pathway One: I can say Yes! to some or all of the proposal or idea right now.
Often there is immediate agreement on many aspects of a proposal or idea. These early wins should be affirmed from the beginning and throughout the dialogue. Each round of dialogue should assume the depth of consensus already achieved. Participants should be held accountable for the decisions in those areas where they have affirmed the proposal or idea.
Pathway Two: I can say Yes! to the proposal or idea if I have more information.
Frequently the presenters of a new proposal or idea do not provide enough background information, or do not know the information most desired by participants in the decision-making process. Or, participants want to ask questions to assure themselves that various perspectives or interests have been included in the development of the proposal or idea. Also, if a new proposal or idea develops in the midst of dialogue it usually will require more information to discover any systemic impact it may have on the individual or organization.
Pathway Three: I can say Yes! to the proposal or idea if I have more time for dialogue.
Persons presented with a new proposal or idea often have a process deficit. They have not had the same time or opportunity to process the proposal or idea as have the presenters. By providing time and good facilitation to those receiving a proposal, it is possible that saying Yes! to the proposal or idea will be possible within a reasonable amount of time. Also, if a new proposal or idea develops in the midst of dialogue it may require significant dialogue and facilitation to build a consensus.
Pathway Four: I cannot say Yes! to the proposal or idea in its current form, but I would be open to future dialogue.
Some people have legitimate problems with a given proposal or idea. They need to be able to express that they are not prepared to say Yes!, without being the focus of disapproval from the remainder of the group. Often their inability to say Yes! is because they need additional information or dialogue. At times it is because the proposal appears to violate their core values. When core values are violated, saying Yes! can be tough and involve soul-searching efforts to re-evaluate previously non-negotiable perspectives.
Posted on March 16, 2021