Resolving conflicts, ones that are significant and about which we have strong passions, is not easy. Resolving conflicts in community that have become entrenched for years is enormously difficult. When communities attempt and fail to resolve a conflict, members become disheartened and are reluctant to try again. If they do try and fail again, members become highly cynical, demoralized and extremely resistant to trying again, let alone hoping again or investing again.
Individuals and communities fail to resolve conflicts for a number of reasons:
Communities do not make an pro-active, deliberate “choice” to deal with the conflict. Most avoid it. When conflicts do erupt, people “react” without a planned process for handling them.
Members and leaders do not put their best foot forward. Most of the work in a confrontation comes in “preparing your heart.” If you don’t prepare your heart, look at the speck in your own eye and examine your motivations your run the risk of letting your worst urges take over. Conflicts often fail because people want to “win,” become “vindicating” or “hurt” they other – not the best of intentions.
The leadership and/or facilitators are not courageous or “skilled” enough to help members face the conflicts head-on. People make judgments and blaming statements. They listen with distorted filters.
Members and leaders have limited “discipline” for handling the tensions. They become “defensive, reactive and argumentative and consequently are sloppy in they manner of handling the conversations.
“God’s providence“. Sometimes we can make a good choice, bring our good intentions, handle the conversation with skill and discipline and it still does not work. The issues is not resolved. Sometimes it is only years later that we can see God’s hand in this and why this was so. God’s timing is often different than our own, but only in retrospect may we know why.
We are known for our work in “conflict resolution.” We have worked with numerous communities that have attempted and failed to resolve conflicts on any number of occasions and had yet to find a breakthrough experience. We know what it takes (choice, skill, discipline and preparing your heart) and we know how to help communities do what it takes. If your community has experienced an entrench pattern of failure, an impasse around a particular decision, and you will like our assistance, please Contact us, Dr. Ted Dunn and Dr. Beth Lipsmeyer, for additional information.
Our expertise with conflict and resistance
We have a reputation as facilitators and consultants for dealing well with “conflict” and “resistance.” Part of that pertains to our background as clinical psychologists, which has given us an appreciation of, and the skills for working with, both individual and systems in conflict (see about us). In addition, our years of training and teaching others how to work with conflict and resistance has helped us hone our own skills (see CARE).
More importantly, we recognize that the gospel call to nonviolence is real and perhaps never so needed as today. For most of us, however, it is far easier said than done. Our reactions get the better of us, particularly when our skills for living nonviolently are lacking.
We have growth to deeply commit ourselves to nonviolence and to appreciate conflict and resistance as an “as yet undiscovered piece of the truth.” The pain that yearns for expression, understanding and compassion is often poorly understood by the messengers themselves. Even if it is understood and even if well intended when spoken, too often our anger and pain is expressed unskillfully – violently. Most of us did not learn these skills in school or from our parents.
Such poorly packaged nuggets of wisdom and pain are hard to appreciate when they come in the form of judgments, defensiveness, outbursts of anger, blame, and sarcasm. The tension that is produced by the very ugliness of its expression, unfortunately brings most people to either respond in kind or to withdraw. Again, most of us simply lack the skills for receiving and responding to such pain in constructive ways.
Yet, we believe that the need to work with conflict is paramount. One has only to look at the cumulative damage done in community (let alone the world). We believe that the work of “working through” is essential for communities who are facing high stakes decisions about their future. It is essential for dealing with their own woundedness that has been left unreconciled for years. We believe that healing, wisdom and creativity come from working through conflict. We believe that dealing with resistance is the very heart-work of change. We believe this is essential work in order to preserve and revitalize life in community. We believe that the ongoing avoidance of this work is creating toxic environments, sapping the very life out of some communities.
All too often communities and facilitators alike fail to deal effectively with conflict and resistance. Instead, violence begets more violence. Chapters and assemblies can come to a stand still as participants are brought to their knees with such disruptive interactions. Such eruptions of the spirit are actually golden interactions that if seized upon skillfully, could result in breakthrough experiences, rather than breakdowns. Too often processes are created with an effort to avoid or get around the known conflict. Facilitators attempt to manage, avoid and minimize the conflict. Some attempt to redirect it, insisting that it be dealt with “outside of the room.” Working around such conflict, rather than through it, inevitably fails to bring creativity, group safety or new life. It only adds to the lack of safety, the confusion and the stifling, toxic atmosphere of unresolved conflict.
Our approach as facilitators is different than most in that we deal directly with conflict. That is not say that we are not fearful, that we aren’t hurt when attacked, or that it is an enjoyable experience. We have the same feelings as anyone else. However, despite its unpleasantness, we know the value and have the skills to work with it. We believe that such work is essential for individuals, groups and religious communities to experience transformative change. We know this because of our experience in both facilitating and teaching others to facilitate these kinds of interactions, to walk the talk of nonviolence.