How to Get Along with Difficult Staff, Volunteers and Board Members
This article provided by the Engstrom Institute
“In the right key one can say anything. In the wrong key, nothing; the only delicate part is the establishment of the key.”
—George Bernard Shaw
Do you have anyone in your life who drives you nuts? Maybe it is a child, a spouse, a friend, a co-worker or a parent. Well, if you are like most people you do have one or more people like that in your life. I want you to get a picture of that person’s face in your mind as we begin this article because I want you to think about how you apply these principles of conflict resolution to your relationship.
These principles have worked wherever I’ve taught them in dozens of countries around the world. So, think about how you can put them to work and see broken relationships become whole!
The Word of God says, “strive to maintain the unity of faith,” “be perfected in unity,” “esteem others higher than yourself,” “admonish a brother in a spirit of humility,” “be reconciled first to your brother,” “if you’re offended go to your brother and speak to him,” “forgive one another,” and “speak the truth in love.”
From these and many more passages we see a strategy and principles for resolving conflict. In this article I want to coach you on 12 steps to resolving conflict. First, let me give you the 12 steps in summary form and then I’ll unpack them.
12 Steps to Resolving Conflict
- Learn to embrace and resolve conflict.
- Address your anger appropriately.
- Seek understanding, not victory.
- Assume the best.
- Learn to share your feelings appropriately.
- Watch your tongue. Ask, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?
- Speak the truth respectfully.
- Attack the problem, not the person. Don’t use “You” statements; use “I” statements.
- Deal with specific areas, not generalizations.
- Seek and grant forgiveness.
- Deal with conflict personally. Go to that person. Don’t reprimand anyone in front of others.
- Be gentle. People are fragile.
Now, that you have an overview of the principles, let me give you a little more practical application of these.
1. Learn to embrace and resolve conflict. How was conflict handled in your life growing up? Did your family deal with it in a healthy way or didn’t they? It’s important to think about this because most of us tend to respond to conflict the way our families did, or we overreact and go to the other extreme.
The tendency is for us to react by “Fight” or “Flight.” We can get abusive on the one hand or run away, deny and hide on the other. Both of these processes are unhealthy and never resolve conflict. Remember, the goal is to embrace conflict and resolve it.
So, what do you do? You commit to resolve conflict routinely. You embrace it the way one fighter embraces another who is beating him to a pulp. You try to get your arms around the conflict, evaluate it, not wasting emotional energy but letting your energy be used for positive problem solving.
The next 11 principles will tell you how to do this.
2. Address your anger appropriately. Learn how to handle anger. First, realize that anger is not bad. It isn’t. In fact, anger is an emotion built within you in order to help you deal with impending danger the right way.
Let me illustrate. You are driving on the freeway and a car pulls right in front of you. What do you do? Well, you may be tempted to do all sorts of juvenile things. I sure get tempted to. But, hopefully, I let the anger I’m feeling lead me to step on the brakes, swerve and avert a fatal accident. You see, anger is a tool to help you.
So, anger isn’t bad. A response of flight or fight, however, is NOT the right way to respond. Instead, admit your anger and ask yourself what is causing it. Again, don’t waste your emotions by moping or screaming or being resentful. Instead, let all the emotional energy go toward completing the next 10 steps.
3. Seek understanding, not victory. Learn to listen! That’s a killer for most of us. But, you’ll never be a pro at resolving conflict unless you let go of trying to always win and focus on truly understanding. So, keep your mouth shut and ask questions.
If you are feeling hurt by someone due to what they may have said or done, don’t attack the person but ask questions to determine what was said and why it was said. Again, don’t get in an attack mode.
Instead, try to understand the other person’s perspective.
4. Assume the best. Don’t jump to wrong conclusions. Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt.
How many times have you heard someone say something or look at you a certain way in a meeting and you thought, “She doesn’t like me.” What’s that all about?
We so often squelch good relationships at home and at work by assuming the worst. This especially happens when we hear that someone has said something negative about us. Hey, don’t overreact. Remember, we all get and give filtered information.
So, if you get disparaging reports about you from others, check it out. And, assume the best. You might want to say, “The other day a mutual friend said he heard you say, or someone else say, some unflattering things about me. I know how messages get confused when they pass through people, so I wanted to check directly with you to see if you do have any concerns and/or see any areas in my life I can work on.”
I know that you may just want to deck the person. But why? First, you may have inaccurate data. Second, if you received accurate data, you may need to do some changing. Third, at the least, the person knows that there is accountability for saying things and most likely will be more thoughtful the next time.
5. Learn to share your feelings appropriately. Feelings are often confusing. Frankly, most men, myself included, seldom know how they feel. For instance, my wife Mary can say something to me that hurts my feelings and I express anger instead of hurt. Many men react to hurt with anger. It’s easier, because anger seems to us to be about you—and hurt is about us.
It is, frankly, a little too vulnerable for most of us “macho” guys to admit that what you said hurt us. But, that is the fact. We are feeling unappreciated, disrespected and unloved. And, hey, this is a two-edged sword. Women feel the same way, guys. They feel unloved, unappreciated, undervalued.
In fact, I believe that the major problem in marriages is the inappropriate management of anger, especially in the area of sharing our feelings. It is really not about finances, the business, the kids, the in-laws, sex or other side issues. It is about how we feel—unloved, unappreciated, etc.
Here’s what we need to do. The next time you feel angry, you need to do the following:
- Admit that you are angry. It’s OK. Anger is just a warning sign.
- Communicate your anger to the person in this way. Say something like this, “I have a problem. When I heard you say ____________ the other day, I felt hurt, upset, unappreciated (whatever is accurate) and angry. Now, I realize that this is my problem, but I’d like to work through with you what you meant, how I can change, and how I can make you aware of the effect your words had on me.”
Give this a shot. Don’t get discouraged if people don’t respond well. This will always work best when the other person has bought into these same 12 Steps as a common approach to resolving conflict. But this will improve things even if they don’t, because it is the right thing to do.
6. Watch your tongue. Ask, is it true, is it kind, is it necessary? Do you know how dangerous the tongue is? It is such a little instrument—like a spark of fire—but it can cause a huge conflagration. It can do incalculable damage though it is so small. It’s much like the rudder of a ship—so small but it can turn an entire ship.
You probably remember words a parent or others have said to you in anger. Those words just don’t go away. They result in you feeling unloved, unappreciated, unvalued. Well, you have the same power.
So, the next time you open your mouth, remember the power of your tongue. Use these questions as guidelines for everything you say. Ask:
- Is it true? Don’t say things like “always,” “never,” or other words that are absolute. Say, “in this instance,” or “in my opinion,” or “sometimes,” etc.
- Is it kind? Hey, think about it—we should be kind. There is never a reason to be rude, obnoxious, offensive or harmful. It doesn’t matter how horrible another person may be. Use the old golden rule here, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” Treat others kindly just like you want to be treated.
- Is it necessary? So often we speak just to speak. Don’t do that. Say what is necessary. One wise leader said, “Even a fool seems wise if he keeps his mouth shut.” Don’t be guilty of verbal pollution. Instead, keep the verbal airways clean by saying only what is necessary.
7. Speak the truth respectfully. You should always be truthful! That will keep you away from practicing flight or running away, denying, or repressing conflict.
Truth is truth but much of what we think is the truth is really opinion. And each of us thinks our own opinions are the right ones! Do the work to determine if what you’re about to say is truth or opinion.
But even if it is just your opinion, do express how you feel about a situation. You must be truthful. People deserve to know what we are thinking and feeling.
If you don’t do this you are bound to be stuck in the same cycle of miscommunication, hurt, frustration and other elements of pain. By getting the truth, or even your perspective of the truth, on the table you are beginning to address the real issue and can get to its root. I’ll give you more tips on this throughout this article.
While you speak the truth, be respectful. Treat people with dignity. Be kind, generous, gracious, caring in your relationships. This is just the right thing to do. Be gracious toward people. This will cause you not to practice flight—or demonstrate offensive, abrasive, bitter, or abusive behavior.
8. Attack the problem, not the person. There are few things more harmful than attacking a person’s character. We do this often when we try to handle conflict. The key is our language. Don’t use “You” statements; use “I” statements.
Don’t say, “You make me so mad,” or “You are such a pain.” Instead, use words like, “I have a problem … when I see you do this I feel … ” or “it seems to me” or “I think that … ,” etc.
Remember, when you use “you” statements you give the impression that you are attacking the person, and in some way you are. Don’t back people into a corner. Instead, use “I” statements which give the other person some room to grow and preserve their dignity.
9. Deal with specific areas, not generalizations. There are few things worse than making overgeneralizations. Men, don’t ever say to your wife, “You are just like your mother!” This is usually not complementary in the first place, and second, it is not totally accurate.
Instead, be specific. It is one thing for me to say to you, “You are a liar!” How does that make you feel? Probably worthless and defensive, does it not? It is too general and I am attacking your person.
Instead, I might say, “The other day when we were in this meeting I heard you say ________. This didn’t align with my view of the facts. Can you help me understand the discrepancy?” You see, there may be a perfectly good explanation. But, at the very least, I have given you a gracious opportunity to address the real issues and clarify the problem without pinning you in a corner.
10. Seek and grant forgiveness. These are two of the toughest things to do. It is not easy to forgive or ask forgiveness. Let’s take them one at a time.
First, forgive. Now, understand this. Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing. Trust is conditional and forgiveness is not. You need to forgive freely and unconditionally for three reasons.
- First, it is the best thing for you. My buddy, Nancy Dornan, often says, “Unforgiveness or bitterness is like taking poison and hoping it will kill the other person.” You see, bitterness is like a “root” that holds you down from achieving your own potential. It stops you from flying like an eagle. It poisons you.
- Second, you should forgive because you free up the other person to seek reconciliation and forgiveness for him or herself. You liberate people to be their best when you forgive. You are an instrument to help others be their best.
- Third, you should forgive because you are so blessed and forgiven in so many areas of your life. Make an inventory of all the good things in your life that you don’t deserve—wealth, health, family, friends, and forgiveness itself. You have so much. Do you really deserve it? My first prayer each morning is, “Thank you, Lord, that you don’t give me what I deserve.”
I mean that prayer very sincerely. I know what I deserve and I have so much I don’t deserve. So, pass a little of that grace on to other people.
Then, learn to ask for forgiveness. I have to do this routinely because I mess up so much. I coach people to use the following four statements. I’d memorize these and put them to work on a daily basis. Here they are:
- I was wrong to have ___________.
- I’m sorry I caused you to feel ________.
- I’ll work hard at not doing this again.
- Will you forgive me?
11. Deal with conflict personally. Too often we get frustrated and go behind a person’s back and complain or gossip about them. Don’t do this. This is cowardly. Be brave. Care enough to confront. But, do it using all the principles we’ve talked about in this article.
Go to that person. Don’t reprimand anyone in front of others.
“What if that person doesn’t respond?” you ask. Then, bring two or more people with you for clarification. Your goal here isn’t to beat up on the person but to provide clarity and confirmation of the issues. You may be wrong yourself. Be humble, share how you feel about the conflict and let the other person share his or her perspective. Let the others with you give their perspective.
Whatever you do, don’t embarrass people in public. Given them the opportunity to address and resolve the issue in private first.
12. Be gentle. People are fragile. Remember that. Treat people with grace and kindness. They are fragile like eggshells. The person with whom you are in conflict may seem like a hard-hearted wretch. But, trust me. They are fragile even if hardened. So, be gentle.
Gentleness is the same word for meekness. Someone has said, “Meekness is not weakness.” And, it isn’t. Meekness or gentleness means “strength under control.” So think of a wild stallion whose will has been broken but whose spirit is alive and well. You should be dynamic, powerful and intentional. Hey, your job is to speak the truth. But, you should also be gentle, kind and gracious.
So, have an alive spirit and a broken will under the control of the Master.
I don’t have the time to tell you the dozens of stories I have of relationships that have been reconciled by following these principles—now in dozens of countries around the world. I can tell you that I have heard and read the stories of hundreds of people who have applied these principles and, in tears, relayed the results of restored relationships.
Don’t hold back. Be a leader and take action. I coached you through the process of clarifying and resolving conflict. So, now start practicing connecting with those closest to you. And, write me your stories of transformation and reconciliation as you apply these principles.
Ron Jenson is the author of 15 books, including Taking the Lead, Glow in the Dark (co-authored with Bill Bright), The Making of a Mentor (coauthored with Ted Engstrom) and Achieving Authentic Success. This book builds out the 10 MAXIMIZERS principles that serve as the basis for this article. Jenson serves as a life coach to many top leaders throughout the world. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit TakingTheLead.net.
Source: CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP ALLIANCE