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Relationships: Separate the people from the problem.
Interests: Focus on the interests, not the positions.
Creativity: Brainstorm creative options for solving the problem.
Standards: Agree on the standards you will use to solve the problem.
Let's begin this week with relationships. It's no surprise that we tend to get personally involved in issues we care about. So much so that when disagreements arise, we tend to take the conflict personally. We feel that our wisdom and worth is being challenged. If you've ever been surprised at the emotional reaction you've gotten when you've disagreed with someone, that's likely what's behind the reaction. It takes some work to separate our own ego from an issue, and we have to know that the other side has their own sense of worth and wisdom entangled in their viewpoint, too.
So, we have to pay attention to three things: perception, emotion, and communication.
Perception: We have to try and understand the viewpoint of the other person or the other side. Now, understand what "understand" means! Understanding someone's viewpoint doesn't mean agreeing with it. But you have to get to a point where you can accurately explain why someone sees the issue in a different way. As long as your description of the other person's viewpoint is a shallow caricature that the other person wouldn't recognize as his own viewpoint -- if that's happening, you haven't met the first principle of conflict resolution.
Emotion: A second thing we have to do in order to keep the focus on the people and not the problem: We have to take seriously the emotions involved. There's a pattern I've seen in leaders' lives -- my own life as a leader included. You pray and study and shape an idea that you're convinced will benefit the group, and when you propose it, someone reacts against it with an intensity you never expected. And you wonder, "Where in the world did that come from?"
We're at our best as leaders if that's more than just a rhetorical question!
In other words, we shouldn't just state that question as an expression of shock and surprise, we should ask that question with a plan to find the answer. We need to take that emotion seriously and try to find out what's fueling it.
Communication: A third way we focus on the people and not the problem is through the way we communicate. We need to give our full attention to others when they're speaking, and when we're speaking we need to find the best way to help the other person understand our point of view. There's a difference between getting something off our chest and getting something into the other person's heart.
Now, when you're in conflict, focusing on the person and not the problem is clearly biblical.
The word we translate "accept" means "receive into fellowship; take to yourself; bring into your embrace." Paying attention to perception, emotion, and communication is one way we put that verse into practice.
I've just described a lot of hard work, and I've succeeded and failed at this principle myself over the years. And, sadly, there will be those times when your effort at focusing on the relationship will simply be one-sided. But most of our conflicts would be resolved -- and many conflicts would not even start -- if we kept the attention on the people instead of the problem.
Next week: "Focus on the interests, not the positions."
LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.