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19 Feb '13

Discerning the voice behind the voices

Posted by T.J. Addington in conflict, passive aggressive behavior, problem solving
Consider a common scenario. You are a ministry leader and you are receiving significant push back from one or more individuals either personally or you are hearing common themes being discussed with others which find their way back to you secondhand (the passive aggressive way to deal with conflict).

As a rule there are two things I want to know. First, who is pushing back and second, who is the voice behind the voices when there are common themes being raised.

When there are rumblings in your ministry and people tell you that there are discontented folks the first question is "who are they?" In fact, I will generally not have a conversation with people who tell me there is discontent in the ranks unless they will tell me who is involved. 

Why? Because there are people who I know that are continually discontented with where we are going, who have attitudes that are critical and cynical and who I know are not really on the team. The fact that they are sources of discontent neither surprises me nor am I going to spend time and energy trying to change their attitudes. On the other hand if the source of discontent is a healthy staff member I am going to press into that to see what can be done to resolve the issue.

There is another scenario that is all too common: you start to hear common themes in a common language which tells one that there is a voice behind the voices who is spreading discontent. The best passive aggressive people are smart. They will not tell you upfront what their issues are but they will tell others who are prone to becoming enmeshed with them emotionally and who will take on their crusade. They are like arsonists who light fires with others behind the scenes but when you show up they are never there to take responsibility. Rather, they use others to carry their water while they remain hidden in the shadows.

Here is what you want to understand in this situation. Those who are loud voices may not be the ones who are instigating the critical spirits. Common language, common complaints, and common attitudes usually indicate that there is a common source. Thus to deal with the situation you must find the common source. 

Here is where Christians are often naive. We believe that God's people will act with integrity when in fact they often don't. Jesus told us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Often when asked by church leaders about scenarios like this I will do some probing and it is not difficult to figure out who the common source is. Once that is determined it is possible to develop a strategy to deal with him or her.

Remember: common language, common complaints and common attitudes usually indicate that there is a common source. Figure out who the voice is behind the voices and you have a shot at dealing with the snake in the grass.