Dealing with Conflict: Prevention First

When it comes to our health, we know that many health problems can be prevented if we would just properly take care of ourselves. Methods of prevention include eating properly, daily movement, and adequate rest. Even volunteering provides a significant benefit to our physical and mental health.

When it comes to conflict within a small group, prevention should also be the first method we use.

Consequences of Unhealthy Conflict

Conflict can be healthy when members are discussing differing perspectives and opinions. Disagreements are ok. But when the conversation escalates from a discussion about the disagreement to a battle, it can get ugly and emotional.

Members will leave a small group because of an unhealthy conflict. Small groups split up and dissolve over unresolved conflict. Even if it doesn’t affect membership or attendance, relationships can be hurt or broken within the small group. It will be impossible for your group to thrive in this kind of an environment.

Dealing With Unhealthy Conflict

Lately, I have read several opinions about how to deal with conflict within a small group discussion that is getting out of control. There have been some great recommendations passed along. However, I was surprised that all of them focused on addressing the problem after it occurred. None of them discussed the small group developing an agreement (sometimes called a covenant) before the conflict arises. In my experience, these agreements are successful in preventing most unhealthy conflicts in small groups.

What is an Agreement?

The agreement is simply a document that group members develop (or review and add to if a church provides one) that defines how the group will run. Each member then commits to the agreement. Because the group members have a hand in defining it, they have significant buy-in to what it says.

The agreement can cover details about the meeting. It can define the roles and responsibilities of group members. It can also describe how members are expected to behave (and how it will be lovingly handled if they don’t).

Although it is simple to describe, it may not be easy to create. A significant amount of time and energy may be required for the group to come to a consensus on the items in the agreememt.

Using the Agreement to Prevent Conflict

Periodically reviewing the agreement as a group keeps the expectations fresh in the minds of the members. If you take it seriously, so will your group members. Understanding the importance, it discourages members from initiating conflict. It provides an environment where it is appropriate to agree to disagree.

When the behavior of one or more of the members starts going from a healthy discussion to one that is unhealthy, it usually only takes the leader or another member to mention the agreement and the conflict is diffused immediately without it becoming personal.

I am not saying that this method will always work. But it can help in many of the situations you will face. I recommend you add it to your tool set as a small group leader.

Question: What are some ways your small group has dealt with conflict?  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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