Training in conflict resolution

Typically I am asked to help organizations in which a recent event has highlighted problems with conflict. Sometimes this is because an issue has arisen which is very much like a past issue and the leadership is astute enough to recognize that it is the same thing again. They are clear that this issue will continue to impede the organization as long as it goes unresolved and they decide to address it.

One recent example of this was with a church that had seen a lot of dissension around the performance of a pastor. Even though the pastor had moved on and there was a new pastor that almost everyone liked, the leadership, including the new pastor, recognized that, while the old pastor had been a lightning rod, the issues which generated the charge were still present in the congregation. They wisely resolved that during the honeymoon of the new pastorate it would be prudent to explore the deeper issues knowing they would sooner or later come to the fore.

These deeper issues will always be visible at three levels and a full accounting of the problems will require naming the issues at all three levels.

  • The easiest one to see is the resource based level. Resources are finite so it is easy to fight about them. There is always never enough. So we fight over budgets or hours or paperclips.
  • The next level, and somewhat harder to see usually, is the identity based level. This looks at who we are to each other and what is the nature of our relationship. This level tends to be about what we can expect from each other.
  • The third level is about process. The process based level is about how decisions are made and who has which rights and responsibilities. This is about policies and by-laws.

When organizations ask for help about persistent conflicts our goal is to engage in a process of clearly naming all of the sources of conflict at each of these three levels. This forms a kind of strategic plan which the organization can then use to shape its common life over the next months or years to address and resolve these issues. It is generally possible to develop this plan with the leadership of the organization in two to four sessions.

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