Thus engaging conflict over ideas without digressing into some sort of relationship conflict, especially when handling the kind of topics that senior leadership teams do, is quite the challenge. Just as we offered several tips for cultivating task-oriented conflict, we offer tips to manage relational conflict well when it arises.
- Don’t freak out. When decision stakes are high, individuals’ points of view are shaped by differing (usually taken-for-granted) values, belief systems, or interests. When more about the problem is unknown than known—just as in nearly every decision made by a senior leadership team—relationship conflict is bound to surface.
- Acknowledge the “elephant in the room” by addressing awkwardness or a conversation that has crossed the line. Pause the conversation to address the tension.
- Pay attention to your emotions and to the emotions of others. If you experience a strong emotion internally, or notice that someone else is, acknowledge it, and allow each person to express what they’re feeling and why. Treat one another’s feelings and perspectives as legitimate topics of concern and conversation.
- If you are offended by what someone has said, consider alternative interpretations, and be willing to offer the benefit of the doubt. Seek to not be offended.
- Engage in enough conversation so that your team can either resolve the conflict fully—if that can be done quickly—or get back to its work while leaving the conflict to more fully address it later. Get back to doing work together as soon as possible, without sweeping the conflict under the rug.
- If the conflict is not resolved quickly, work it out fully in individual conversations between the persons with the conflict until they can come to a place of reconciliation.
- Learn from it. Take some time in your next team meeting (or sooner, if necessary) to revisit the conflict. Ask all team members for their thoughts and feelings about the conflict. Discuss what your team learned from it—about one another’s “touch points,” about what it looks like to love and respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, and about how you can best work together in the future. When relevant, capture what you learned in your team ground rules.
- Pat yourselves on the back. You’re using conflict to learn how to work better together and how to love each other well in the process, which builds authentic trust and true community.
Welcoming, cultivating, and effectively managing conflict is essential for a team to thrive in its decision-making work. When people have the opportunity to air their ideas and hesitations in an environment where their input is welcomed and truly considered, they are likely to unite around the decision that is made and walk out of the room unified in direction.
How does your group or team manage conflict? Sign up today to be part of the Cultivating Thriving Small Groups Study to get an objective view of what’s happening in your groups, and apply data-driven insights to figure out what to stop doing, keep doing, and start doing to help your ministry thrive.
—Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird are authors of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership. This article was excerpted from Teams That Thrive with permission.