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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.
We've already looked at the importance of relationships and interests. Now let's look at the third concept: creativity. We should brainstorm creative options for solving the problem.
In last week's LeaderLines, I mentioned that there's a difference between my position and my interests. I used the imaginary scenario of a neighbor with a yapping dog. My position may be that he should get rid of his dog so I can meet my interest of a good night's sleep. And his position may be to turn the dog loose in the back yard to meet his interest to secure his home from intruders or keep his dog from tearing up the house when the family is gone.
But once get the focus on each other's interests instead of each other's positions, it frees you up to find ways to address those interests. Any number of solutions would meet the interests that my imaginary neighbor and I would have in the situation.
Conflict resolution involves offering lots of solutions and inviting others to offer their solutions until something can meet the interests of both parties. Sometimes this will even involve a little brainstorming.
Brainstorming is the process of thinking up as many ideas as you can to solve a problem without any evaluation or judgment over the suggestions. I've led strategy sessions where we'll spend 10 minutes just writing on the board as many ideas as we can come up with, and we have one rule. For those 10 minutes, the only thing you can say is, "Thanks." No evaluation, no judgment until the brainstorming ends. Then we begin sifting out the substantive ideas from the flaky ideas.
This can work in resolving issues in relationships, too. If my imaginary neighbor and I were to visit regarding his dog, we might talk security systems to meet his need of security, or some way to train the dog, or those little machines that emit "white noise" near my bed to drown out noises from the outside, and so on. Some of those proposals just wouldn't be practical, but looking for creative solutions to a problem requires you to start with brainstorming every option you can think of and only then begin to evaluate which ones have the best chance of making both sides happy.
As you can see, it's at this level of the four steps that we have the chance of seeing a Mount Everest rising up from the pressure of the issue. Eventually a solution can be found to meet the needs of all concerned, and often the solution is something better than either party originally imagined.
Do you recall in Acts 6 when conflict arose between those who spoke Greek and those who spoke Hebrew? This happened very shortly after the very first church began. Within the church, those who spoke Greek complained that their widows were being overlooked in the care-giving. The Apostles offered this solution: Choose 7 men and we will appoint to them the work of taking care of the widows. Now, the Bible doesn't tell us how the church came up with the names of the 7 men, but I'm sure it involved some discussion until agreement was reached on the 7 names. And I bet you've never noticed this before, but all 7 names were Greek names, not Hebrew names. This is significant if you remember that the complaint about neglected widows came from the Greek-speaking part of the church.
When given the freedom to solve this issue, the church came up with a way to solve the problem that met the interests of all concerned. They were living out the principle that Paul would later put into words in Ephesians 5:21, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
There's one more step toward thinking "win-win." Next week we'll look at standards. We need to agree on the standards we will use to solve the problem.
LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.