Duncan Smith is a member of the conference Dialogue Resource Team and is active in the Glennon Heights Mennonite Church.
Those of us on the Dialogue Resource Team (DRT) are committed to finding ways to work “through” conflict. We encourage working “through” conflict and finding ways of transforming it. It has been my privilege to witness this type of transformation and resolution of conflict between individuals and in groups. Working through conflict by dialogue and conversation is not easy, it requires energy and time. Part of what takes time and energy are roadblocks that come up, the following two you will likely recognize.
Roadblock #1 – Lack of willingness to work through a conflict. How much is needed? What if one party denies a conflict? I have witnessed just a sliver of willingness, sometimes simply illustrated by being present in a conversation. In that sliver of willingness can come a surprising change or insight, for instance, gaining a deeper understanding of the situation or understanding (empathy) of the other party. This small willingness can grow as a breakthrough brings into focus a different more positive way of relating. This sort of situation takes patience. There are times that one may have to live with small steps of resolution, or accepting that there is some, but no further resolution, at least at this time. This can be difficult, and small consolation that your relationship with another person is better, but is not what you had hoped.
Roadblock #2 – What happens when there is a power differential? It is not uncommon that one person comes into a conversation with more power, and our church culture is sometimes shy to name or reflect on power, but it exists. When I was a conference minister people would tell me, usually after I met with them, that they were nervous to meet with me, but the meeting was fine. I had to remember that no matter how hard I sought to make a conversation fair and friendly that my title alone might be intimidating. If you are meeting with someone to solve a conflict, consider the following:
- Recognize the power you might have due to position, age, gender… It may not seem like this is power, but it may be experienced that way by others.
- Use trusted processes provided by the church, work or family system to solve a conflict. This may be formal mediation or an informal way your family has worked out, over the years, to resolve conflicts.
- Make sure you have support, someone you can confide in and trust to keep confidence. This may be a person who you would ask to go with you if you are seeking to work out a conflict.
- Whenever you talk seek to make sure the space and setting is comfortable and safe for you. It is not unreasonable to agree on what this looks like with the other person if it is a planned conversation.
- Have ground rules for your conversation, such as using “I” language, not making character statements, when one person is speaking the other listens and does not interrupt.
Lots to consider as life and conflict can be complicated. These are, in many ways, just starters. Shalom!