Conflict Management — Part 3
Managing Board Conflicts
Ever feel like firing your board? If so, this article will provide 10 tips that can help you manage conflict with your board before it paralyzes your church.
1. Clearly Define The Role Of The Board Member.
One of the easiest ways to reduce conflict is to state clearly to potential board members what you expect from them. Many conflicts come from a board member who has an ill-conceived idea of his role — ranging from a feeling of powerlessness (I’m simply a puppet) to a feeling of control (I know what is best for the church). By giving written guidelines for board members to review before committing to the board, expectations of membership are clearly set.
2. Look For Potential Areas Of Conflict Before The Meeting.
Take time to evaluate agenda items before they are presented. Talk with board members separately to evaluate their positions. If you know someone on the board may have a problem with a proposal, seek the individual’s counsel in advance. Even if you disagree, this will give you an opportunity to identify possible solutions to the areas of potential conflict.
3. Clarify Responsibilities When Assigning Projects.
It is important to clarify exactly what is expected and to receive input from the board member regarding what he expects so that he can take ownership of the assignment. Assumptions are often made before, during, and after board meetings regarding the extent to which a job is expected to be done.
4. Listen To Your Board.
How often do we decide to start talking about what we want without hearing what the other side wants us to hear? Even when pretending to listen, we are usually preparing what we are going to say next and do not even hear what is being said. Take active steps to let board members know you are listening to them. If you feel your board is not listening to you, first seek to hear what they are saying before assigning blame or trying to force them into a position they might not be ready to accept. They might see a negative side to a situation that you did not see.
5. Separate The Personality From The Problem.
Have you ever had a board member whose personality is different from yours? He usually is the most vocal of all the board members (at least it seems that way). This problem can be accentuated by the fact the individual can make statements and even questions sound like accusations. Rather than going on the defensive when an issue arises, focus on the solution to the problem Analyze the issue rather than the individual.
6. Avoid A Battle Of The Wills.
Many conflicts degenerate into a battle of wills when people seemingly become entrenched in irreconcilable positions. When a conflict first surfaces, focus on the underlying goal that all want to see accomplished. If you have a contentious item, work on other items that may help to resolve the more difficult situation. Above all, avoid insults or implications that challenge integrity, intelligence, and/or motives.
7. Endeavor To Hear All Sides Of A Conflict.
Rarely does a major conflict have a solution acceptable to all. However, if an effort is made to hear all sides of a conflict, a course of action can at least be explained based on all the information presented. If in a later meeting someone tries to revive the issue, answers can be provided based on the board discussion, thus reducing conflicts over the issue.
8. Determine Why You Feel There Is A Conflict.
Many conflicts are a matter of perception or escalate because someone has not thought it through. The advice to count to 10 before responding to someone in anger is good, but we should go a step further and ask if the situation is worth engaging in a conflict at all. Is there a conflict because you didn’t get your way? Or is it a conflict because you left out information needed to make a decision? Only by asking the question can you get the answer.
9. Do Not Take Comments About Ideas Personally.
It is difficult to engage in debate over matters that are near the heart. Many take comments personally or react to criticism as if it is an attack on the individual. Over a period of time this results in a feeling of rejection that can lead to taking sides in a perceived conflict.
10. Consider Enlisting The Help Of A Third Party.
If a conflict becomes too difficult to resolve, do not be afraid to ask for help. Don’t succumb to the idea that you can handle everything or that the conflict will simply go away. Seek help from fellow pastors or from a lawyer trained in conflict resolution.