Friday, October 17, 2008

5 Healthy Ways To Deal With Conflict

Often in Youth Ministry, we deal with conflict. Sometimes it is not identifiable or transparent. Other times, it is blatant, in-yo-face! I believe I have the spiritual gift to identify conflicts happening around me whether I am the target or not...sometimes I feel like I have the spiritual gift to be the target of conflict (LOL!!!).

Here are 5 Healthy Ways to Deal with Conflict:

1. Identify the real target of the conflict. Sometimes when people are upset, it's not something you did, but stress within the life of those who come after you. I sometimes take out my stress on my family. I sit and realize I am not upset with my wife or kids, but with another situation. The truth is it is easier to offend those that love me most because I know they will continue to love me. With Youth Ministry, the target may not be my teaching they are upset about, but a fight they are dealing with in their family. The target may not be that a parent is upset we ended an activity at 7:01pm instead of 7:00pm, but that they were stressing that they had an early morning meeting at work the next day that they were not looking forward to. Youth Ministers are easy targets because we are seen as inexperienced, less educated, immature people...even though we are not.

2. Ask Questions. Sometimes the best way to go through a conflict is to ask as many questions as possible to find the root of the conflict. It is easier to deal with the exact reasons why someone is upset if you have gone through the deduction process. For example: What is it that I did that you are upset about? How does it make you feel when I ____? How would you have handled ____? What can I do to make ___ up to you? What can we do to resolve ___? In the future, what would you like me to do? How might "so-and-so" feel if I did this your way if they were fine with my decision? How will this truly affect the rest of the group if I were to try this your way?

3. Compromise. Sometimes taking a shot of humility is the best way to solve a conflict. There have been many times I have done things in ways I was not accustomed to in order to reach the largest cross-section of the group as I could. It is not easy to swallow your pride and admit you might not be the best at something. Absolutely try other people's ideas (my wife will shout AMEN! at this statement and ask me to swallow my pride). Disclaimer: If it is not a good idea, don't do it just to prove a point. Tell them why it's not a good idea, but come up with a way to incorporate some of their idea into something that will work. Don't compromise the integrity and health of your program for a lame-brain idea.
4. Don't deal with conflict over email or text message. I don't know why, but my writing style in email tends to confuse people and convey messages I never intended to say. One thing I decided a long time ago was to never deal with conflict over email. I had one parent shouting and accusing me of some of the most ridiculous things once. I immediately emailed back and said, "I won't deal with this through email. I will call you right now." and called her. We set up an appointment. It turns out that after a day of breathing and letting it simmer, she wasn't as angry as she was the day before and apologized for the way she spoke to me. That might be some good advice; give it a day to rest. But, DO NOT ignore it or let it sit for too long. Deal with conflict ASAP.

5. Be honest. This should be a no-brainer, but honesty is the best policy. Don't hide your feelings to save those of the other person. If the other person needs a dose of truth, give it to them. Please don't lie about a situation. If you made a mistake, own up to it and vow to make it right so it never happens again. It is a weird thing in Youth Ministry that we have to be who the church wants us to be. I find this mantra unholy. Many churches have unreal expectations in who their Youth Minister should be...many online job descriptions I have read about what churches are looking for make me sad. My heart hurts for the person walking into those situations. I cannot be someone I am not. I have taken jobs doing what they wanted me to for the need of a paycheck. No more. I will not live my life lying about who I am in Jesus. I am not like your last Youth Minister. I will never be like your last Youth Minister. I believe I am better than your last Youth Minister because I bring new gifts and abilities to the table. I can only be who I am. I will teach your kids about Jesus. I will teach them how to live like Jesus in an unholy culture. I won't be able to teach a class on Existentialist Christianity because I do not believe in it (that is supposed to be a joke...you don't get it do you?). My honesty is connected completely to my faith and my ministry and my integrity.

These are but 5 ways. I am sure you could come up with 20 or more ways to deal with conflict. I have had my fair share and these are just a few ways I have dealt with it. I love what my online friend said today: "There’s no real relationship without risk, and there’s no integrity without truth." Great words Matt! How else can you be a child of Jesus if you think this is something you could compromise?

Good luck with conflicts that come about in your life...especially to you Youth Ministers reading. This was really written for you. You have probably the dirtiest job Mike Rowe could ever come up with...he would quit mid-job if he had to do it for a day...it would be the first time we see Mike Rowe quit a dirty job before finishing it. Live a life of integrity so no one can say you are not a child of God. Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young (of course I know some Youth Ministers who are older than their preaching/senior ministers)...young at heart, right?

Live for the truth, teach the truth for life.