Conflict Management #3

The Path to Change
What actions can be taken to bring positive change?

Someone has to break the ice, but it takes some skill to probe a sore spot without activating defenses. This responsibility usually falls to the senior pastor, because he or she has the authority to establish a spirit of grace and trust. Consider this possible scenario:

“Jon, Heather, thanks for being here,” Greg said. “We’re supposed to discuss the Easter service, but I’d like to talk to you first.” Heather fidgeted, Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Jon, I know this is a late start, and that puts you behind the eight ball. With so little time, you’re forced to be the bad guy and shoot down our ideas. That’s not fair; please forgive me.”

Jon was stunned. He mumbled something about it being OK. Heather spoke up. “So, why am I even here? You guys don’t even take anything I say seriously.”

That got Jon going. “What do you expect? You know that what you’re saying isn’t possible.”

Heather shot back, “Isn’t that what brainstorming is about, putting it all out there and editing later?”

“Whoa, hold up, guys. This isn’t anybody’s fault. We haven’t been managing this process very well. And by ‘we,’ I guess I mean ‘me’. Heather, your ideas are great, and we’d actually be able to do some of them if we started this earlier. It’s wrong to call it ‘brainstorming’ when your input can’t be used.”

“Greg, can I say something in this spirit of open communication?” Jon, as usual, was pretty intense, and Greg inwardly swallowed hard. “Sure,” he said. “Fire away.”

“How come you have to run everything all the time? I’ve wanted to take the Easter service for a couple of years, but you won’t let it go. I could get things going earlier, and we could make more of our good ideas happen.”

Greg had a decision to make. Jon’s words were sharp, and Greg wasn’t “feeling the love.” But he took a breath, accepted the burden of responsibility, and proceeded carefully.

“Jon, I’m glad you asked about that. I’ve wanted to give it up, but I felt that it was my responsibility. And seriously, I thought you were too busy.”

“So, why didn’t you ask if I was too busy?”

Though he felt like Jon deserved a sharp reply, he said, “Jon, I don’t want to be critical, but you often look hurried and bothered, and you tend to complain when I ask you to do things.”

Jon stopped and considered his words. Inside, he was rehearsing a dozen defenses, but he followed Greg’s example. “Wow. I didn’t know. I guess I don’t know how I come across sometimes.”

Heather was having trouble holding it in, and took her turn. “Look, I know I’m the only woman, but I’ve got a lot more to offer than you two will give credit.”

Greg took the lead. “I’m sorry you feel that way. Why do you believe that we your input isn’t valued?”

“For one thing, you never ask my opinion.”

“Do we have to?” asked Jon.

“Of course! You don’t think I’m going to stick my nose where it’s not wanted, do you?”

“Well, Jon and I are both able to express ourselves pretty well. I just thought you were choosing not to engage.”

“Who could, the way you two go at it?”

Greg laughed. “What’s so funny?” Heather wasn’t amused. Greg continued, “I can’t believe all the stuff we’ve all come to believe about each other, and very little of it is true.”

They all sat quietly for a moment. Greg again took the lead. “Heather, Jon, I haven’t done a very good job being your pastor. After my family, you deserve my first energy.”

Jon had a wry smile. “I guess I might need to work on my people skills.” “Maybe I need to have more confidence in myself?” Heather wondered aloud.

“OK. Jon, do your best this year. Heather, help him any way you can, and I promise to ask for your input from now on. And Jon, next year it’s your baby. Just let me know the schedule, and any way I can help.”

“Done!” said Jon.

“What about Easter lilies?” asked Heather. “We were too late to order any last year.”

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