There are several key steps to action in conflict scenarios.
After a conflict has erupted the first thing to do is to create space to deal with it well. Negotiate a cease-fire. In this space spend some time agreeing to how to proceed. We call this ‘negotiating process’. Agreement can be around the use of ground rules, covenant commitments, or a shared set of core values to honour in conflict. It may be a good time to do some teaching if the situation is not too volatile and tense. Although if the pastor is personally involved, it cannot be the pastor who teaches this. The second key element of creating space is reconciling hurt relationships. It is essential to make sure relationships are put right if there were hurtful events in the initial flare up. This reconciliation doesn’t solve the conflict, but it does create the spiritual and psychological space in which the conflict can be worked on.
Open up the conflict
The second key phase (green in the diagram above) is to open the conflict through exploring the issues, understanding the needs, interests and values of each side and looking at all of the contributing factors. This is a great time to complexify the conflict. A natural response is to look for a quick fix solution to reduce the tension. This is rarely successful. It is better to understand all of what has contributed to this and get it mapped out. Let all parties work on this together. If the space has been created and can be maintained, this is a key step towards finding a creative way forward.
Begin the process of Narrowing Down the Options
Only when some time has gone into understanding the issues and needs of all involved can the process of generating and evaluating the options begin (Blue in the above diagram). Work on some creative ways to get these options out in the open without necessarily making people commit to them in the process. People need time to think these through. Get as many options up as possible. The take some time to agree on what the criteria for evaluation will be. Once this is done, a preliminary evaluation can take place.
You may need to cycle this process a couple of times
This third step usually throws up some new insight into the issues, needs and values of the parties involved. It is not uncommon to have to cycle through the green and blue areas several times. This does not have to take time but it is worth people being aware that this is what is happening.
Finally there needs to be a Decision made
In all conflicts and the management of polarities in organisations, there have to be decisions made about how things will proceed. There does come a time when the authorised decision making processes of the organisation need to be used to reach an outcome. This needs to be done with a much consultation with all involved as possible. If there are communal processes of discernment available for use these can be wisely used at this time. When a decision is made, it needs to be implemented with thought and care, especially with understanding of the needs of those who disagree. There may need to be a pastoral process of healing and restoration in some situations.
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