“Pull the thistle.” We have heard that phrase from our lead Pastor Bob Roberts 1,000 times at NorthWood. He means, in his East Texas roots way, that if you don’t deal with an issue, gossip, behaviors or negative comments quickly and directly the “wound” will soon get infected, fester, and possibly even affect other areas of the body; but most of us dislike or even dread conflict and confrontation, so we let things go that shouldn’t be let go. I am not advocating not offering grace, but making it clear that grace is being offered and that there is an issue at hand. Here are some principles I have learned about dealing with conflict from watching Bob Roberts and listening to leadership guru Bobb Biehl:
1. You can deal with something all out, and it will be messy, or you can not deal with it and have the person’s little messes fall on you for years. I learned that difficult conversations, though hard, are much better than the constant tension of denial over a long period of time.
2. Only sadistic people like conflict, I prefer clarification. Bobb Biehl says that all conflict is based on a wrong set of assumptions by one party. Examples: (A) “Oh I thought I could talk negatively about another worship team member on Thursday and still get to sing on Sunday.” (B) Wow, you really care that I drank so much at a party that reports came back to you. It wasn’t that much” (C) “Yes, I told someone else that you had wronged me without coming to you first, but it was your fault.” Or more subtly (D) “Yes I haven’t sung the required amount of times on bridge team, but I helped out on extra on vocal teams last month.” (E)” Yes I miss audio cues almost every other week, but I am trying my best.” One of the best ways to have a “clarification conversation” is to bring forth the concern and then ask the person to list their assumptions. Then, you can list clearly the principles or values that counter those assumptions. Hopefully you have espoused those to a degree in the past that it isn’t the first time they have heard them.
3. Since you will begin the conversation by asking them questions to gather their assumptions, it allows them to speak and be heard without feeling like they are being attacked. Stay calm and listen. If they were wrong and are trying to dodge the issue, their answers will out them. If you had misunderstood the situation, you’ll hear their answers and realize your assumptions about the situation was wrong.
4. When you have the clarification conversation, do not let the conversation drift off topic and get to your solutions. Write down the things that need to be covered and the clear solutions or outcomes. I remember having to deal with a band member who had gone to a topless bar. I had the solutions written down so I wouldn’t get to the quick. If he was repentant, I would ask him to tell his wife, apologize to his fellow bandmates, take a six month band hiatus and then we would talk about his returning to the band. Tough, I know, but redemptive. If he was not repentant, I was going to permanently dismiss him from the band. I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget or “go soft” even if he repented and say, “Its okay, just don’t do it again.” He needed the grace and time to deal with the issues at hand.