Everyone experiences conflict in their life so it should be no surprise that it also occurs when we are working with others in ministry. However, conflict theory says there are several varieties of conflicts with interpersonal being only one type. Let’s therefore look a little more closely at each of the conflict types:
Many people experience a strong internal (intrapersonal) behavioural conflict which can look similar to interpersonal conflict but it is based on ‘me’ vs ‘me’. For example: if you had a strong desire to set and reach goals quickly, and at the same time you needed to do everything in a very correct way, these two behaviours would clash and you may interact with others in a way that looks like interpersonal conflict. The same thing happens when your behaviours and values clash internally. For example: if you had a strong desire to set and reach goals quickly and at the same time you believe it is important to encourage your team to go along with you in a new venture. The result of intrapersonal conflict is often doubt and lack of confidence and requires a specific personal renewal journey.
Many individuals are simply “not on the same page” or do not get on with one another so when they are obliged to work together to achieve goals or to share ministry on a consistent basis, friction may arise. This interpersonal conflict is based on ‘me’ vs ‘you’. In these situations, leaders will usually have to take on the role of both mediator and counsellor to help diffuse the situation and find a resolution, or make the difficult choice to ask an individual to leave based on their inability to function in a team. Interpersonal conflict requires knowing self and knowing others and accepting the fact that ‘different equals different’ and ‘different does not equal wrong’.
Some conflicts are caused by circumstances related to roles and/or tasks that an individual is expected to perform. This conflict is based on ‘me’ vs ‘role’. Some of this arises from overlapping responsibilities or status issues (the relative ability of one person to tell another one what to do or not do). An example of this might be a pastor instructing someone to operate a piece of equipment when they have been told by their team leader not to touch the equipment. They therefore easily run into conflict as a result of the different expectations and goals – even though, on another day in a different set of circumstances, they could find themselves having no such conflicts and are able to collaborate. Another example might be to recruit someone for a role and they are unable to do some of the required aspects of the role and they are not offered up-skilling.
Although this is similar to role conflict, personal-organisational conflict typically occurs because the goals of the whole organisation are not completely clear or have changed. If this type of conflict is wide-spread and it persists beyond a few weeks or months, it may become part of the organisation’s “culture” and be potentially very destructive to the organisation and everyone involved. Organisations have a fairly limited set of choices when it comes to resolving this kind of conflict. The avoidance and smoothing choices depend on time to slowly erode the difficulties being experienced. Confrontation and compromise, on the other hand, involve specifically directing individuals or forcing mediation with hopes of a solution.
Conflict theory suggests that there are many different kinds of conflict and it is critical to identify which we are dealing with ahead of time. It is ultimately important to remember that conflict is not a problem in itself as it can lead to more individual and organisational creativity in many cases. However, we don’t want it to fester, so the more able we are to resolve conflict at the earliest possible stages the better.
Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International. He has 30 years of ministry experience as a pastor, college lecturer and consultant/coach to consultants, denominational leaders and local church pastors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org