One meeting, three stories

Consider the perspectives described below, each is held by a different person concerning the same situation. After the meeting, the chairperson asks each person how the meeting went. This is what she hears:

Person X Person Y Person Z
That was a fantastic meeting, I felt we had space to connect and I especially valued that devotion, I felt we all tuned in to the presence of God and connected to something deeper. Jo does a great job of preparing those with her whole heart. This meeting probably enriches me more than our Sunday gatherings, it means a lot to me. Another frustrating meeting.

Once again we went till 10pm and everyone at home was in bed by the time I got there. Why does it have to take so long? We didn’t even make clear decision on the last three items of the agenda and they are all important. Why can’t we get things done. It’s so frustrating that people don’t prepare and aren’t ready to be clear and make a decision. I think I’ll step down.

That was a confused meeting I don’t even know what I’m doing there. We are either praying and worshiping or rushing through decisions and business. It feels scattered and no one seems to be asking to bigger questions – what is our purpose? I’ve been here for 6 months and I don’t even know the answer to that question. None of the agenda items are even important, its so menial, we decide easily enough as a group but that’s because the stakes are so low but its not going to make any real different in the world.

Questions

  • Why is it possible for three different people to have entirely different experiences of the same meeting?
  • What role do expectations, purpose and values play in the conflict described above? Can you identify one or two values/expectations/purposes for each Person?
  • If you were the Chairperson, how would you facilitate a conversation around the issue of the meeting, its purpose and expectations, while trying to encourage each person to continue participating.
  • What learning or training have you done around conflict?
  • Why is it challenging to verbalise issues, or speak up when there is tension?

Wisdom from the pews

“All innovation involves times of conflict. These often include internal conflicts as well as struggles with broader bodies of the church. In some cases, conflicts remained mostly unspoken and beneath the surface, however they still have a profound impact on energy levels, commitment and trust. ”

“When conflict is engaged in directly, it can be helpful or unhelpful too. It can involve grace-filled meetings exploring divisive theological ideas, through to hurtful meetings where confidentiality wasn’t kept and individuals felt targeted. Innovative projects by their nature will be positioned away from the formal centre of the church and will push boundaries. ”

“There is a higher likelihood of conflict with parts of the system that are more traditional. This dynamic raises the need for high level conflict management for innovators and those who engage with them. The way that a community deals with conflict is a clear expression of it’s true values, potentially different from its spoken values. ”

“Effectively and positively engaging in conflict, in a way that is authentic and natural to that community can strengthen commitment and trust. There is value in a project, even in its early stages, normalising conflict and establishing some ground rules for how they want to deal with matters as they arise.”

Going deeper

Conflict in Congregations - Resource

The Assembly hosts a resource on responding constructively to the inevitable conflict that arises in congregation or community life:

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Responding_to_Conflict_in_Congregations_-_Parramatta_Nepean_Presbytery_2011.pdf

Courageous Conversations

Susan Scott is a writer and researcher on honesty in conversations. In this video she explains her approach to fierce, or courageous conversations and how these skills can be useful in responding to conflict: