Monday, March 28, 2011

Conflict: Part 4 - Resolution in the Secular World


As stated previously, not all conflict is negative. In fact, some conflict and tension is actually desirable if it is positive. If an organization, including a church, do not regularly and thoroughly challenge what they are doing then it is unlikely they will keep up with a changing world.[1] This failure to adapt is one of the primary reasons businesses fail or decline. This is not to say a level of conflict where there is bitterness and deep resentment is desired. [2] This positive conflict must be handled appropriately for it to be beneficial. There are a number of ways this is accomplished in church world though the author’s preference is decidedly similar to the approach of the Apostle Paul when he instructed Timothy to preach the Word regardless of what the people want to hear (2 Tim.4:1-4).[3] In the church we are to remain biblical in our approach.

On the other end of the spectrum is negative conflict. Since some positive conflict is desirable when handled correctly, it is negative conflict requires some sort of action and ultimately a resolution. Exactly what form that resolution should take depends in part on the context in which one is discussing conflict; the secular world or church world. A brief review of both positions follows.

Resolution in the Secular World

Conflict is said to be resolved when a situation in which the underlying reasons for the destructive conflict are eliminated. [4] Conflict resolution techniques in practice in the secular world vary from direct and indirect action by those in positions of authority to negotiated settlements. Direct approaches to conflict management and resolution include problem solving, avoidance, smoothing, authoritative command, and compromise.[5]

Indirect approaches include reducing interdependence where action is taken to reduce or even eliminate the required contact between conflicted parties. Another indirect approach is an appeal to the common goals of conflicting parties. In this approach the goals of those in conflict are elevated thereby increasing the awareness of the parties’ interdependence in achieving those goals. In doing so, disputes are put into perspective.[6]

Finally, there is negotiation which is the process of making joint decisions when the parties involved have different outcome preferences. There are a number of strategies and techniques employed in negotiation but all involve compromise wherein each party receives something for which they are bargaining but none of the parties receive everything they are seeking. It is worth noting that conflict is not truly resolved until the underlying substantive and emotional reasons for the conflict are identified and dealt with. This is not always possible but the negotiation process allows for all parties to get something.

[1] Dobson, Edward G., Speed B. Leas, and Marshall Shelley. Mastering Conflict & Controversy. (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1992), 29.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] MacArthur, John. "A Challenge For Christian Communicators." The Master's Seminary Journal, 2006: 7-15.

[4] Schermerhorn, Jr., John R., James G. Hunt, and Richard N. Osborn. Organizational Behavior, 8th Ed. (Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003), 382.

[5] Robbins, Stephen P. Organizational Behavior 9th Ed. (Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 392-395.

[6] Schermerhorn, Jr., John R. et al. Organizational Behavior, 8th Ed., 385.

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