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13 Aug '14

Endless emails and church/staff conflict

Posted by T.J. Addington
It is not unusual when working with a troubled church to read endless emails regarding whatever it is that has created conflict. Even more interesting to me is when there is dysfunction on a church staff and staff members who work in close proximity to one another are exchanging lengthy emails rather than walking down the hall (or to an office next door) to have a conversation. 

Email dialogues are rarely helpful for resolving conflict. In fact, I would posit that they actually raise the level of conflict because it is easier to state things in non-negotiable language in an email than it is in person or on the phone. Thus the dialogue often becomes even more strident in email conversations (confrontations). In addition, emails are often written in the heat of the moment lacking the gift of reflection. Even worse, emails can be copied to many others which now widens the potential conflict rather than keeping it between two parties. Word to the wise: never put in an email anything you don't want the world to hear because they may.

Emails do not allow one to sit down face to face and seek clarification, look one in the eye and listen carefully, empathize or challenge points of view in a personal way. I will often receive emails asking for an answer or seeking my perspective and I will reply, "It sounds like this is a conversation, not an email." Then I will schedule a phone call.

People with good emotional intelligence are not afraid of conversations. Often email exchanges are a substitute for a conversation out of fear or an unwillingness to dialogue with someone that we know disagrees with us. Ironically, personal conversations tend to diminish rather than increase the level of conflict. Especially if the two parties are at least willing to listen to each other and seek understanding. Email missives are a cowards way out of a personal conversation where we are more accountable for our words, body language and attitudes.

When there is conflict, walk down the hall, pick up the phone or make a Skype call rather than write down words you cannot retract and which may polarize rather than heal. In fact, this is my practice whenever I hear that there are people who have issues with me. Rather than wonder or make assumptions I pick up the phone and seek to resolve whatever it is that has caused a disruption in the relationship. 

In conflict, have a conversation rather than sending an email.