What are they? When is it time to have one? How can we avoid them?
The last question was a trick question. The fact is, they shouldn’t be avoided. I’m not suggesting you look for a bone to pick with everyone, nor am I suggesting that you entertain every critical person you cross paths with. But in my experience, difficult conversations are nothing more than a dialogue that takes place around a conflict or tension of some sort. And if you’re in relationship with another person, there is bound to be conflict. We all see the world through a different lens, colored by our own unique personalities and past experiences. That means our ideas, thoughts, actions, words are bound to bump up against another’s at some point.
As a preschool ministry leader, there are tons of decisions to be made. Whether it’s about big things like curriculum, or seemingly insignificant things like paint color – someone has to decide. More often than not, that will be you. You will have people who like your decisions, and those who don’t. A decision you make will cause conflict with a parent or leader at some point. That’s ok! It’s in those places of tension where we grow, our ministry grows, and relationships are built!
Conflict at its core is a disagreement (not everyone experiences life like I do) or a difference (not everyone thinks like I do) that poses a threat (triggers something that causes us to feel threatened).
Sometimes we are on the receiving end of a conflict conversation, and sometimes we are initiating it.
Conflict conversations only become difficult, or more so, when the gap between what was said or done, and the feelings that accompany it, grow. While we should choose trust over suspicion and extend grace as often as possible, in some cases there will come a point that a conversation needs to happen. For me, I know it’s time for a face-to-face conversation when I begin to have an imaginary conversation with the person I’m experiencing tension with.
We’re all adults here, right? So I won’t go into the importance of not dialoguing via text or email, and instead getting face-to-face as soon as possible. Move quick. Don’t allow time to widen the gap tension can create in conflict. When you do get time to sit down, keep a few things in mind:
- Prioritize the Relationship. More than winning an argument, look for ways to maintain or even strengthen the relationship as you discuss the issue at hand.
- Focus on the Issue-at-Hand. Stay in the present! Rather than arguing on past decisions, or hurts, look for ways to solve the issue in the here-and-now. Conversation will deteriorate when the issue gets lost in past issues, angry words or hurt feelings.
- Pick your battle. Determine if you are dealing with curious questions or judgmental questioning. Sometimes people simply need more information in order to buy into a decision, noted by curious questions. These individuals, if you take the time to listen and respond, will become your biggest champions.
- Listen carefully. When we lean in and are present and we communicate that with our body language, we listen well. Repeat back what you heard to make sure you are understanding what the other is trying to convey. Model this well, so it can be reciprocated when it’s your turn to share!
- Propose a solution. Remembering that you are prioritizing the relationship, seek to find a resolution that seeks the best interest of both parties. (Philippians 2:4-5)
Spiritual leadership is almost always dealing with someone’s past pain, parents, or past religious experiences. By applying these practical tips and tools for resolving conflict and navigating difficult conversations, you can turn tension into growth opportunities making you better, your team stronger, and the ministry more impactful. Good leadership isn’t the absence of conflict, but rather it’s the presence of restoration and reconciliation in relationships. And relationships always win.