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9 tips to deal with conflict in your church

SUMMARY: Whenever minds meet, the potential for conflict arises. As church leaders, you may have been involved in or witnessed the clash of differing opinions or views. Conflict is inevitable, but it can be managed. Use these tips yourself or with others in your church.

1. Practice acceptance.
Conflict gets a bad rap, but it also can be good. It reminds us we are different and provides an avenue for a healthy resolution acceptable to both parties. When conflict arises, take a deep breath and work through it, reminding yourself of its benefits.

2. Sharpen listening skills. 
Resist the urge to become defensive or argumentative. Truly listen with body and mind to the other party — and do not interrupt.

3. Start positively. 
When you speak, begin with something positive. As this article, “9 tips on giving and receiving criticism,” says, “RSVP with love.” Listeners become more receptive to what you are saying if they know what you like about them or their thoughts on the subject.

4. Use your body. 
Envision yourself and the other person as a team. Face the same direction as the other person, angle your body toward him or her, make eye contact and maintain a relaxed body posture. Watch your body language so it is nonthreatening and collaborative.

5. Don’t add to trouble. 
If the conflict is between you and someone else and outside assistance is needed, involve only one other person, perhaps a pastor or group leader, as a neutral party or mediator. The chairperson of your staff/pastor-parish relations committee may be a helpful resource if the conflict involves a member of the church staff. Avoid adding others to the argument, especially if you are inviting them only to reinforce your opinion.

6. Set a goal. 
It is important to understand neither party in a conflict is likely to get everything he or she wants. Identifying the goal for your discussion is helpful for both parties: Do you need the other person ultimately to agree with everything you say? Do you simply want to make sure the other person understands what you are saying, even if she or he disagrees? Compromise is often necessary.

7. End on a good note.
Don’t leave mad; depart with appreciation. Thank the person for his or her time and willingness to discuss the issue.

8. Go to mediation.
At times, conflict reaches a level where mediation is needed. JustPeace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation is a United Methodist-related organization that provides a wealth of free resources. You can find a professional mediator in your area through the local phone directory and online resources. Always ask for references.

9. Don’t forget virtual conflict.
The best way to avoid conflict is to prevent it. If your website, blog or social networking pages allow comments, make sure you have an online communication policy that addresses what type of comments are allowed. Then, if you remove an unacceptable post, you can respond to the conflict by citing the published policy.