Depending on how conflict was dealt with in our families—and depending on our own conflict style—we may be more or less comfortable with this area of small-group life. Personally, I assume that conflict is a normal part of all human interactions. Nonetheless, some types of conflictive behavior are easier to deal with than others.
When interacting with my family, I prefer a forthright sharing of feelings and thoughts with all parties committed to finding a solution. I do not like name-calling, temper tantrums, and shouting. But other family members like to have a good fight with lots of theatrics, floods of tears (called "a good cry"), and a cathartic act of making up to round everything off. As a family, we have learned how to deal with the differences in our conflict behaviors and styles, although this learning is an ongoing process.
In a small group, each person brings his or her own conflict styles and preferences from a unique family background. Some people prefer peace at any cost, so their style may be avoidance. Some people have a more persuasive style and feel compelled to convert others to their point of view. Others with an assertive style simply like to wade into an argument and get excited when a discussion heats up.
That's why it's vital to talk about how the group would like to deal with conflict when setting up a covenant in the first gatherings.
Levels of Conflict
In her book How to Mobilize Church Volunteers, Marlene Wilson suggests a helpful approach to conflict within groups and congregations. She highlights four levels of conflict and how they may be addressed.
- A first level of conflict is informational. People do not have the same information, and a simple exchange of facts and sharing of conflicting viewpoints is sufficient to clear up any misunderstanding.