Leading through Conflict: 5 Ways a Leader Can Deal with Harmful Conflict

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Leaders, you need not fear conflict. With the power of God’s Spirit, you can lead through harmful conflict and continue to move your team forward to accomplish the goals God has for you.

Bible Studies for Life

Can you remember leading or being on a team that was riddled with harmful conflict? Do examples of unresolved conflict on church committees come to mind?

Any time a group of people gathers as a team, the possibility of harmful conflict arises. Whenever a team decides on goals or strategies requiring discussion and decision-making, conflict is virtually inevitable, and harmful conflict very possible. Personality differences, personal preferences, political agendas and the like can create deep conflict. Conflict can stop the forward motion of a group instantly, if not destroy the effort completely.

Conflict Can Paralyze or Energize

I have served as a pastor for over 38 years; 28 of those years have been in the same church. I have faced conflict in every church, no matter the size. I can tell you: Conflict can paralyze you in leadership or it can energize you to complete the vision. I have experienced both. It has discouraged me greatly or moved me to a resolve to push through the moment, keeping my eyes on Christ and the vision He has put in my heart.

Conflict Calls Upon the Leader to Lead

Whenever conflict arises, the leader is the person who must recognize and respond. The leader must evaluate whether the conflict is beneficial (working through differing ideas on the way to a solution), or harmful (rooted in jealousy, personality, pettiness, etc.).

5 Ways a Leader Can Deal With Harmful Conflict

  1. Don’t ignore the conflict. Conflict doesn’t just dissolve away like sugar in coffee. Harmful conflict is like a plague–it spreads. It hurts everything it touches. Good leaders do not ignore harmful conflict.
  2. Don’t wait longer than necessary to gather all the facts. Leaders can gather facts without ignoring the problem, and waiting does not imply ignoring the problem. In fact, making sure all the facts are in mind will lead to a better resolution of the conflict than if the leader tries to fix things ill-informed.
  3. Don’t address the group to get at an individual. This is an easy trap to fall into. When made aware of two people in a group who are angry with each other, blasting the group isn’t the answer. If a person or more than one person are problematic in a group, the leader should take him, her, or them aside and address the issue directly. When the scatter-gun approach is used, it hurts the morale of the group members who aren’t guilty. It sometimes allows the conflict causing party or parties to ignore the reprimand since it’s easy to say, “That was meant for someone else.”
  4. Listen, question, and listen more. Writing in Bible Studies for Life, Paul Jimenez wisely notes, “Leading through listening leads to a godly resolution-and in so doing, we honor Christ.”1 Good listening can lead to good thinking, and to spiritual awareness. Never hesitate to ask clarifying questions when leading through conflict. Get clarity from all parties.
  5. Make clear communication the top priority. When putting a stop to harmful conflict, it is imperative that everyone involved hear and understand the same things. Wording is as important as the delivery (written, verbal, both). Though Paul wasn’t writing about conflict resolution when he talked about the trumpet making an uncertain sound, it is a good communication principle. Paul Jimenez suggests listen, affirm, and confront as a basic framework to communicate clearly.

Leaders, you need not fear conflict. With the power of God’s Spirit, you can lead through harmful conflict and continue to move your team forward to accomplish the goals God has for you.

1– Bible Studies for Life, Be Strong and Courageous, Paul Jimenez

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