Conflict is a natural part of being in a community. It cannot be avoided or controlled by anyone, but it can be an agent of change.

When you approach conflict from a defensive posture, it can escalate the situation to where a third party is needed to help resolve the conflict.

Viewed as a change agent to be embraced from a humble and non-defensive posture, conflict provides both individuals and organizations an opportunity to become healthier.

What I’ll call the “Conflict Transformation Cookbook” can provide houses of faith and other organizations with some tools to positively transform conflict into a positive outcome. Here are four principles for leaders that I have found worth practicing when dealing with conflict:

1. Follow the 70/30 rule.

This means leaders do 30% of the talking and 70% of the listening. During conflict, it is important to take an active listener posture instead of a defensive posture.

The member is not always right. Nevertheless, it is important to give them space to share their position. The 70/30 rule empowers you to remain in control of your emotions and listen to what they have to say.

Remember to do your best to separate your emotions in a conflict situation. Just because there is conflict does not mean you are a bad person. The conflict is not about you. It is about the member’s pain, and to know their pain, you must do 70% of the listening and 30% of the talking.

Also, when talking, you are never seeking to defend or justify. You are seeking to understand their perspective. In order to understand their perspective, you must be willing to ask tough clarifying questions, but there is no need to defend yourself in a conflict situation.

As difficult as it sounds, by taking the 70/30 rule, you are putting your member first and, in doing so, creating a space of trust as you address the conflict.

2. Discover the pain.

The goal of this principle is to identify the gap between where the member is and where the member wants to be.

In his book You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar, David Sandler writes, “Your job during a conflict is not to create pain but to create a good discussion to uncover their pain.”

There are three elements of pain: surface problems, reasons for the surface problems, and the personal impact.

A few questions to help a person uncover their pain are: Could you tell me more about that? Can you be more specific? Could you give me an example? How long has this been a problem? What have you tried before to get the issue resolved? Did that work? How do you feel about that?

Asking these questions in a sincere manner will allow you to break down the member’s emotions and sift through the surface-level pain to discover the real pain that needs to be addressed.

3. Be aware of cultural bias.

One key to understanding someone’s experience is to be self-aware of our own experiences. Everyone brings their baggage into a conflict situation, so not every surface-level issue is really the central issue.

If a member is feeling slighted, it may mean they have been slighted in the past by someone in an authoritative position. The same may be applied to leaders as well.

When faced with a conflictual situation, ask yourself what biases you may bring with you and how they may affect your perspective. We all have natural biases due to our cultural upbringing and our cultural experiences.

Shadell Permanand recommends you consider your perspective on the following: Gender roles, child raising practices, who deserves respect, what “professional” means, how employees should be treated/behave, how members should be treated/behave, what behavior is ethical, how conflicts should be resolved, how organizations should operate, how people should dress, how people should or should not argue, and the importance of education.

It is important in resolving conflict that you are aware of your own biases in order to help resolve conflict in a way that is beneficial to both parties involved.

4. Set ground rules for the dialogue.

Invite the person to help set the rules for the conversation. Ask how they wish to be spoken to. Ask what they would value while addressing the conflict. Tell them what you value and how it might be of help to resolve the conflict.

A few basic rules are: no personal attacks, speak with a respectful tone, actively listen to whoever is speaking, address the issue directly, agree that the conversation will be a dialogue not a debate, set and agree on an end time (this will allow you stay on task in addressing the conflict), allow the individual to express their expectations, express your expectations, and set next steps.

This “cookbook” is designed to give you a framework to build your understanding of conflict transformation. But remember that these principles only scratch the surface of conflict transformation.

Every conflict is unique, and you may need further preparation and resources to navigate conflict situations so that they lead to positive results and a healthy organization.

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