Originally posted in October 2014:
Recent events at General Theological Seminary provide another painful example of conflict in an organization, and how it can put people into extremely difficult positions, threatening the health and stability of everyone in the system.
Our College curriculum spends a lot of time studying conflict, and working with lay and clergy leaders on conflict skills. This is a scary topic, and lots of people seem to freeze up when they notice they’re in some form of conflict with others. One of the best thinkers in congregational development and conflict is Speed Leas, and we work with his Levels of Conflict model in the College.
When you think about conflict in terms of levels, it can help you loosen up, calm down, and intervene more skillfully with others. Leas outlines five levels of conflict:
- A problem to solve
- Intractable situation
Ideally, your conflict stays in the neighborhood of levels 1 and 2, or you are able to bring it down to that level so that everyone can work together positively. Sometimes that’s not possible without outside help. (Typically, if you’re at levels 4 or 5, what works in levels 1-3 no longer works, and you need assistance from someone outside the system.) Notice that any time your group or team has a problem to solve, you are, in a sense, in conflict. Conflict isn’t inherently bad; it’s part of the spice and delight of life in community. We can learn a lot about ourselves, our work, and God when we are in conflict. But as the level of conflict moves higher, the learning is replaced by anger, fear, and increasingly costly mistakes.
At the College, we give participants opportunities to work on the issue of conflict and apply it to their congregational settings. Don’t let conflict discourage or defeat you—learn how to work with it effectively!