Leadership Skills Series: Being in Conflict
Principle #1- Focus on you
There may be no more important life skill than successfully handling conflict. For a leader, it’s essential that you govern yourself well in conflict. More than anything else, this can affect how you’ll be keeping good, healthy people on your team. And, every leader knows that the best determinant of the quality of what your organization gets done is the caliber of the people you have around you.
If you’re in Christian ministry, as I am, you’re very familiar with conflict. You may be a person with an abnormally robust commitment to harmony, (some consider you a “peace at any price” sellout!) yet conflict seems to dog your path. See, like it or not, conflict is a staple in the Christian diet.
Because it’s in conflict that we get to do our best ministry! There are very few things Jesus claims to have given his disciples. But, one of the things he’s given is the ministry of reconciliation [2 Cor 5:18]. The thing about reconciliation is it’s only needed where there is conflict, enmity, discord, and strife. So, if you’re a Christian, conflict is as normal as a kitchen is to a chef. Let that sink in a little. Conflict for the Christian is as normal as the operating room is to a surgeon. It is where we get to do what we do!
For the next several weeks, we’ll look at principles and practices that will serve you well in conflict. Let’s get started.
Principle #1: For once, focus on you. Good leaders are great at setting up the people around them to win, and stepping back just as the spotlight comes on and confetti fills the air. Your ministry leaders get the lion’s share of your focus and attention; you make sure they’re recognized, appreciated, and honored. Yet, when you’re embroiled in a conflict, this is a time to lock your focus on yourself.
I know this flies in the face of our natural, human tendency to fixate on the role the other person has had in creating or embellishing the conflict you both are in. It takes almost no effort to uncover the contribution another has had to a mess you and they are in. Recognizing your contribution to the breakdown, articulating it honestly, and owning your part (and just your part) is much more challenging for most of us. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you’re in a conflict with anyone, you have a contribution! Small or great, you have played a part in the breakdown.
Years ago, I was in a conflict with a couple with whom I worked. From my perspective, I’d been victimized by an avalanche of unwarranted distrust. Over and over in my mind I rehearsed the selfless and faithful ways I’d served them. Then, a friend challenged me to identify how I had planted the seeds of distrust in this relationship [based on Gal 6:7]. To my surprise, I remembered that even before joining the ministry I had judged them as un-trustworthy! This I compounded by repeatedly ignoring the Lord’s urging to pursue relationship with one of them, in particular. My contribution: at minimum, I’d entered the relationship distrusting them and I allowed the distance between two of us to grow unabated.
Your contribution may be something you’ve said or done. It may be a judgment you have of that person or a less-than-charitable attitude you’ve indulged. Your judgments and attitudes always find a way to leak out. People can tell when you judge them—even when you’ve never mention it! Your contribution might’ve been something you left undone, something you failed to do, something you might have done, but didn’t.
Allow yourself to consider how your attitudes, actions, or inactions have contributed to the breakdown. This will prepare you for principle # 2, next time.