II. Resolving Conflict -- By: Douglas M. Little

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 21:0 (NA 1989)
Article: II. Resolving Conflict
Author: Douglas M. Little

II. Resolving Conflict

Dr. Douglas M. Little

Dr. Little is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ashland Theological Seminary.

Conflict among church members probably embarrasses church leaders more than any other aspect of body life. Many Christians carry an unrecognized burden of frustration, pain, and discouragement — the fallout of one fight too many among believers. While the price of mishandled conflict is substantial, many leaders seem to want to look the other way and ignore the problem until it reaches crisis proportions in their own back yards.

Involvement in conflict is unpleasant for most people. Specific strategies for managing conflict must therefore be developed and employed so that the general health of the church does not suffer further deterioration.

Our objective here is to present a number of concepts and tools which can be used to bring out the best in people — especially when the people are embroiled in conflict. The focus is on situations wherein the participants are morally responsible, rational, and willing to compromise, if necessary, to see the conflict resolved. Procedures for situations in which the preceding cannot be assumed are handled in Haugk’s (1988) excellent treatment of that special case.

Knowing Where We Are

A place to begin in improving our conflict management skills is to do an objective analysis of our preferred style in conflict situations. It is important for us to learn how we lead before we spend much energy learning new ways of handling conflict.

Numerous inventories are available to assist the church leader with this self-assessment. Speed Leas (1984) has developed an easily understood self-scoring instrument which assesses a person’s preference for the following conflict stategies: supporting, negotiating, collaborating, avoiding/accommodating, compelling, and persuading. Teleometrics International has developed the Conflict Management Survey (1986) to assess the relative importance attached to persons and to tasks when resolving conflict. Styles include synergistic, compromise, yield-lose, win-lose, and lose-leave.

These and other available inventories assume that a leader is likely to use several or perhaps all of the styles. It is also assumed that each person has a preferred mode of dealing with conflict. Knowing one’s style can help eliminate blindspots and help ensure more intentional and appropriate matching of style to the demands of the context.

Some of us might think that a cursory and subjective personal conflict assessment is sufficient. Louis McBurney, a Christian psychiatrist and counselor for church leaders, observes that “many people in the ministry find it very

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