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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

22 May '12

Conflict avoidance creates greater conflict: four ironies regarding conflict

Here is an irony. In the name of peace we often avoid conflict - addressing issues that we know are real issues but that we don't want to have to work through. What results is usually even greater conflict because existing issues were not addressed and at some point in time those unresolved issues erupt and create a much greater mess than one would have had if they had addressed the issue earlier. 

In our effort to avoid conflict we actually create greater conflict down the road. In fact, the greater the blowup the longer the underlying conflict has usually been avoided. So those who choose avoidance as a strategy set the group up for a larger confrontation at a later date.

Here is another irony! We consider conflict to be a bad thing. In fact, it is usually a helpful thing because the fact that there is conflict is an indicator that there are issues that need to be resolved. Conflict is simply an indicator that there is an underlying issue that must be addressed. 

In itself, conflict is neither good or bad, simply an indicator, like a tachometer going into the red zone that you better shift into another gear or the engine is going to get too hot. Ignore your tachometer and you have engine trouble. Avoid conflict and you have relational trouble. 

A third irony. It is in the working through of conflict - usually competing agendas, philosophies or critical issues that the best solutions are found. Conflict avoidance solves nothing. Resolving the conflict by addressing the competing ideas or issues actually makes the organization a stronger one. The resolution may not satisfy everyone but getting everyone on the same page is far better than allowing competing agendas or ignoring issues.

We often avoid conflict out of fear that in naming the issue we will look like troublemakers. Ironically, our fear is usually unfounded. In most cases everyone is in the know that the conflict exists already. So in pretending that all is well when everyone knows it is not is pretty silly and solves nothing. How often do church boards or ministry teams ignore the elephants in the room that everyone knows exist.

In many cases, the other members of the group are glad that someone has simply named the elephant and at least opened the floor so that it can be discussed. Until someone names the issue that underlies the conflict nothing can be done. Once named it is an issue that can be discussed. 

As a leader I have had to work through conflictual issues with other leaders or staff on occasion. In every case, it has revealed either fault lines of misunderstanding, philosophy, direction or agendas. Without resolving those fault lines our ministry suffers from the divisions that fault lines bring. Resolution (which can take different forms) can bring unity and strength.

Whatever you do, don't ignore conflict which is an indication of fault lines you want to resolve.