Readers who share my Myers Briggs profile (ENFP) will probably empathise with the terror that gripped me on Sunday morning as I left home for a whole day’s training on conflict resolution.
Conflict, you see, is not something I do.
When there’s a disagreement at the PCC, I’m the one who is looking miserably at her toes, wanting the floor to open so that I can escape somewhere, anywhere…
When LongsufferingClockmaker is less than longsuffering with DarlingDaughter (who is, after all, 19- with all that entails!), I long to barricade myself in the study and hide till it’s all over…
Leaving aside my own preferences, I was also painfully aware of the on-going conflict around my ministry as priest which has continued to cast a shadow over worship at St M’s in the year since my priesting, and which remains painfully far from any resolution. I knew I’d find myself thinking about it a lot, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted to.So one way and another, a whole day focussing on the subject didn’t really fill me with delight.
In the event, though, it was both interesting and (I think) potentially helpful.
The guy leading the day began from the premise that conflict is an essential, albeit uncomfortable, feature of almost any change, pointing out that Kingdom values are by their very nature challenging, and that transformation, whether of individual or community, is rarely painless.
He pointed out, too, that it is an essential in any real community…those communities (like those marriages) where there is absolutely no conflict are often characterised either by collusive dishonesty, or by covert domination of one party by the other.
Having explored some examples of conflict in Scripture, we moved on to consider what made situations harder to resolve – things like lack of clarity over the underlying issues, imbalance of authority (perceived or actual) or its abuse, and glossing over sticking points. Then we all did a jolly questionnaire (actually, it was quite hard work) to determine our preferred techniques for resolution. For each question there were only 2 options, and in many cases neither felt really comfortable,- but our brief was to answer all of them in the light of a particular situation in which we had been involved (no prizes for guessing mine) and at the end we emerged with a reasonable guide to our preferences.
My score was weighted heavily in favour of the avoid/accommodate approach, with negotiation coming in a close second…but I was rather startled to discover that I did have some score on compulsion,- until the coach pointed out that there are times when the authority of our orders actually means that compulsion is the only approach. On one level, I’m practising it simply by having refused to abandon my call to priesthood…I do celebrate the Eucharist and I will continue to do so. I’m forcing that situation on the congregation, simply by being who I am. There was a bit of discussion about the mandate to lead that came with ordination, and about the current crisis in confidence among clergy which meant that too many of us are over-wary of admitting to any authority at all…I think I need to consider that more: quite a few things over the past few weeks have made me realise that I really do need to grow up and fully accept the responsibility of my calling without apology. It may not be my natural inclination, but if I don’t see myself as “grown up” by 46 then there’s not much hope!
Back to the results…Other strategies (based on work by Speed B Leas (fab name!) of the Alban Institute) are persuasion, collaboration, & bargaining …and we were told about the essential assumptions, likely outcomes and appropriate times to employ each. I am all too aware that in my particular situation, avoidance has not improved the situation…but since the more fruitful approaches demand a desire on both sides to co-operate, I was left not much the wiser as to routes forward. I suspect that we may be so intractably stuck that only intervention by a third party has any hope of success. I was comforted, though, by a key question “Decide who owns the problem” (if the majority are happy and affirming, it may really not be my issue after all) and by the realisation that no single approach is always right or (what a relief) always wrong
Meanwhile, the important thing is to try to divorce personal emotional responses from the contentious issues, to recognise that we may sometimes be too close to an issue to see clearly, and that in ministry all we have to work with are our relationships,- so communication and open listening are crucial.
I may have gone reluctantly, but I'm so glad that I didn't dig my heels in and refuse to budge.