THE A B C’s OF Conflict Transformation
I was able to attend this meeting with about 500 other members of the Southern New England Conference of the UCC. The meeting included a morning worship and a number of workshops in the morning and again in the afternoon.
The workshop I attended was a titled The A,B,C’s of Conflict Transformation. Recognizing that conflict, disagreements, and differences of opinion exist, between individuals, in groups, in meetings or in the sanctuary, are often not talked about or ignored. The workshop gave guidance and information as a way to begin to deal with those issues. In this workshop it was suggested that a church use an A B C approach to deal with conflicts.
The A B C of Conflict Transformation is a three step approach.
A: ACKNOWLEDGE: The first step in the process is to acknowledge that conflicts exist. Don’t ignore them, but recognize that there is an opportunity to deal with them in a positive and Christian way. Conflict becomes a personal matter rather than focusing on the process or the problem itself. Conflicts usually start with one issue and then grow into larger and more complex issues because they aren’t dealt with immediately. Communication becomes less direct and more complex when people talk about the issue rather than seeking to resolve the issue. People are added who take sides on a issue which causes the conflict to expand rather than moving towards some agreeable resolution.
B: BEHAVE: Once the conflict is acknowledged the next step needs to begin. That is coming to an agreement as to how to behave with one another. If we create a safe way to deal with the difficult issues and have conversations which focus on behaviors rather than personalities this allows for agreements and healthy communication. This allows for the issues to be addressed. How do you to do that? Use a Behavioral Covenant (BC). What is that? It is a written agreement created by the members of the church that will guide how people will treat one another. A BC states clearly how people will behave with each other. It is a statement of what God is calling the group to do and how the group will conduct itself. When a BC has been adopted by a congregation it should be read before each church meeting. The BC will set the tone for each meeting and and help create a safe way for difficult discussions to move forward, to focus on behaviors rather than personalities and allows for healthy patterns of discussion. The guiding principle for a BC is found in Matthew 18:15 - 17 & 20. “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. For when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
C: COMMUNICATE: The third step is to communicate. This is the active portion of the process. There are several important components to healthy communications.
Planning - Set aside time to have a conversation. Decide what need to be discussed and dealt with. Write down the issues that need to be discussed.
Use “I” statements - When discussing the issues try to use “I” statements such as I feel… I think… I need to understand…
Be specific - As the discussion continues give specific examples of the conflict, the disagreement, when it occurred.
Paraphrasing - This is also called active listening. or reflective listening Examples are: What I hear you saying is …or You feel that…or What you mean is..
Agree when you can- During the discussion there will be time when you can say I agree. Build on that, find more things you can agree on. Seek for others to find areas of agreement.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that conflicts, disagreements and differences of opinions are going to happen and are normal. We need to deal with them is a positive and Christian way, recognizing that they need to be dealt with in a timely, direct, open and sensitive way. When dealt with in such a manner conflicts can provide an opportunity for transformation of individuals and the congregation.