Tag Archive for: conflict

In the world today, whether it be in Europe, Asia, Africa, your community, or your church, opportunities for conflict are multiplying. We view this conflict as a clash of different values, opinions, or cultures. From that perspective, whether it is ethnic, religious, political, or personal differences, the conflict has the potential for harmful consequences. 

As leaders, we are focused mostly on transforming conflict into positive action so that everyone can move forward together. That work is good and needed. But have you considered the conflict of everyone agreeing without question or challenge?

Conflict of Agreement

I remember meetings when project decisions moved forward without question to only be confronted after the meeting by persons who were disappointed and upset. When I asked why there were no questions for clarity or challenges to the decisions, I received answers like, “I didn’t want people to think that I was disagreeing with them,” or “I didn’t want to rock the boat.” As a leader, have you considered the conflict created when people say they agree but do not want what has been agreed upon?”  

Abilene Paradox

This kind of conflict is called the Abilene Paradox. The paradox arises when a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is opposite to the information or research they have in front of them. It involves a common breakdown of trust and communication in which each member mistakenly believes that his or her own thoughts, feelings, or knowledge is counter to the group’s thoughts, feelings, and knowledge. People even give support for an outcome they do not want. They don’t want to “rock the boat.” They don’t want to go against group decisions. 

Leading into and through conflict means not only assisting people through disagreements but recognizing that agreements might also be a problem in unhealthy group dynamics. 

Are You Going to Abilene?

The Paradox was named by Dr. Jerry B. Harvey, professor emeritus of management science at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Harvey tells the story of visiting his in-laws in Coleman, Texas on a hot summer afternoon in the late 1950s. The family had gathered on the porch, staying cool by sitting in front of a fan and sipping lemonade. While playing dominoes, Harvey’s father-in-law suggested that they take a trip to Abilene for dinner. Abilene was fifty-three miles away. 

Harvey’s wife said, “Sounds like a great idea.” 

And Harvey, despite having reservations about the drive because of its length and the heat, thinking that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group said, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” 

His mother-in-law then said, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

Going Along for the Ride

Harvey said the drive was hot, dusty, and long in an unairconditioned car. When they arrived at the cafeteria, the food was as bad as the drive. When they finally got back home four hours later, exhausted from the 106-mile round trip, Harvey dishonestly said, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” 

His mother-in-law said that she would have rather stayed home but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. 

Harvey said, “I really didn’t want to go either. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” 

His wife said, “I just went along to keep you happy. It was crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” 

Then Harvey’s father-in-law said, “I only suggested it because I thought all of you were bored.” 

They all sit back perplexed that they together decided to take a trip that no one wanted to take. They each preferred to sit comfortably on the porch, being cooled by a fan, and eating leftovers. But not one of them said so when they thought the others wanted to go to Abilene. 

Hesitant and Reluctant

The Abilene Paradox reveals that people are often hesitant and reluctant to act contrary to their friends or the direction of the group to which they place value. In other words, we create our own stress, based on stories we tell ourselves because we are concerned that we might be rejected by the group if we don’t go along. So, being motivated by the fear of exclusion, we set aside honesty and truth and “travel to Abilene.”  

Real and Phony Conflict

As a leader, you navigate and help transform different forms of conflict. What the Abilene Paradox opens is the possibility of two kinds of conflict, real and phony. On the surface, they look alike. But, like headaches, they have different causes and therefore require different treatment. 

Real conflict occurs when people have real differences. Individuals come to different conclusions based on the information presented. Conflict is often experienced in the struggle between groups who have differing opinions on social issues, different theological viewpoints, or groups seeking support for their projects when funds are limited. 

Learn More 

LeaderCast Episode 208: Peace Is A Big Deal

Leadership and Conflict

Conflict of Agreement

Phony conflict occurs when people agree on the actions they want to take and then do the opposite. The anger, frustration, and blaming behavior that follows is not based on real differences. The conflict arises when a decision that no one believed in or was committed to create anxiety and tension. 

It is a conflict of agreement, not because everyone agrees based on true data, but because they do not want to be contrary to the group. You might find this kind of agreement to avoid the struggle of differing opinions on social issues or different theological viewpoints. People tend to agree to follow the group decision, not because they agree but because they don’t want to lose friends or be perceived as being troublemakers for the group. 

It is often more difficult to lead through the conflict of agreement than the real conflict. As the leader, you can create an atmosphere in which people feel trusted and empowered to speak up with courage and integrity. 

Leading Through a Conflict of Agreement

To lead through the conflict of agreement:

1. Be yourself

God created you and gifted you to lead at a time like this. With humility and without insisting on your own way, trust your instincts. Model integrity and authenticity. 

2. Be truthful about the current reality

Where you start makes a difference. Being truthful about your context helps in creating a solid starting place. Often people will agree to travel to Abilene to avoid facing reality.

3. Keep your mission clearly in focus

Your mission is your purpose. One sure way not to detour to Abilene is to keep your destination clearly in front of the people entrusted to your care. 

4. Be curious

Ask questions. Your curiosity creates an atmosphere of openness. By asking questions you set an example for others. One question to always ask is, “What questions do you have concerning the direction we are going?” 

5. Take others seriously

It is helpful to imagine what people are thinking and feeling. Don’t assume you understand all the facts. Set aside your assumptions. What questions will you ask to understand others’ perspectives? 

6. Listen carefully

Practice active listening. Give your full attention and reflect thoughtfully. Use empathy to connect. Rephrase, restate, and summarize so people know you have heard them. When you don’t understand, ask for examples to clarify the issue. 

7. Communicate Clearly

Remember that clear is kind. Be clear in your statements and be aware of how you are perceived in what you say and do. If appropriate, tell Jerry Harvey’s story of traveling to Abilene then ask, “Who feels like you are traveling to Abilene?” What do you think we should consider? 

8. Be Generous

Provide useful and genuine feedback. Give people the benefit of your best thoughts and responses. Be open to receiving feedback. 

Your Next Step

You have what it takes to lead through the conflict of agreement. This week, contact a trusted colleague or friend and discuss the Abilene Paradox. Share examples of times you have seen it at work. As you share your examples, using the list above, discuss what you might have done to avoid the trip to Abilene.

Your discussion and interaction will help you become more the leader needed for navigating the conflict of these days in which you are leading. 

Please know how grateful I am for you and your leadership. May you be blessed through your relationships and interactions this week.

Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Leadership can be about doing the things that most other people don’t like doing. Confronting interpersonal conflict is one of those things. Whether it is called conflict resolution or conflict management you must address the tension head-on. When it comes to conflict, leadership is not easy. Here is another place I want to say, “Who you are is how you lead.”

Conflict and Disagreements

Abraham Lincoln once remarked that his father had taught him the value of hard work but had never succeeded in teaching him to enjoy it. I confess that I find myself with the same feeling when it comes to conflict and disagreements. To be honest, I like it best when people relate together in warm and harmonious ways. The psalmist says it best, “How good and pleasant it is when people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Yet, after 47 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that such a harmonious state is not always possible or, at times, even desirable.

Barriers to Health

You and I have seen what happens when “being nice” becomes the mode of operation and “peace at any price” is sought out in the midst of conflict. Such actions do not lead to relational health. In fact, they inhibit any honest interaction in which real differences are shared and true fellowship is experienced. 

That is why I say I feel the way Lincoln felt about hard work. When it comes to conflict, I cannot say I “enjoy” it, but I do see its value. With that in mind, there are several insights that are necessary for courageous and effective leadership.

Conflict is Inevitable

First, conflict is inevitable. It is part of who we are as human beings, and it happens in every ongoing relationship. Because it is a part of who we are, it is an opportunity for growth and understanding, as well as change and improvement. It is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed. 

Think of it this way, we are created differently. You and I have different strengths, talents, and abilities. If we love and respect one another, there will be times we find ourselves in disagreement with one another. 

Diversity and Unity

In fact, if we take seriously the doctrine of the Trinity, there is individuality and diversity within the nature of God. There is a dynamic interaction between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not surprising that a world created in the image of this kind of deity would be full of diversity. 

You and I do not think, feel, or act in the same way. This means there will be conflict between us when our differences interact. It also means there will be a richness and creativity that will emerge when we acknowledge our differences and love one another in the midst of our differences. Conflict is the price we pay for our individuality. It is inevitable.

Conflict Shapes Who We Are

Second, conflict shapes who we are. It is through conflict that we become more who God created us to be. Theologian Paul Tillich defined reality as “that which comes against, that which resists us.” It is through conflict that our individual natures are shaped. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Again, think of it this way. It is through encountering resistance that a child begins to distinguish the limits of her/his being. At first the world is an extension of themselves. But when the child pushes on the side of the crib and it does not move, or demands something from his/her parents, and they do not comply, the child experiences conflict. Without it, the true shape of the child’s personality would never be known. 

Disagreements Can Bring Clarity

You and I may not really know each other until we disagree. When I come up against something in you that is not the same as what is in me, then the shape of who you are begins to stand out clearly and distinctly against who I am. 

Our distinctiveness is neither good nor bad. It is just who we are. We each can love and respect each other for who we are and to move forward from there. Only then is there a chance for us to have real fellowship together. Conflict is a gift we receive that helps us love and respect one another as God has created us to be.

An Opportunity for Courageous Leadership

Third, conflict provides the opportunity to lead courageously. Conflict is a daily occurrence. Whether at home, at work, or within relationships, each occurrence is an opportunity to lead with courage and compassion. 

Remember, leadership is taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and the courage of developing that potential. When conflicts arise, you can embrace the situation and the people involved. You work not only to address the problem, but you learn about your own leadership as you lead others through the adverse circumstances. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Tension Leads to Growth

As a leader, you see opportunities that others do not see. You assist others in growing in healthy relationships, because you know that the most authentic relationships do not truly begin until they experience some form of tension with each other. 

Think of it this way. In I John 1:5-7, John writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” 

This means that God is willing to be Godself in all openness. God, by nature, is transparent. God does not hide his uniqueness in darkness or in the shadows. Walking “in the light…” means practicing the same kind of authenticity and transparency. This is the only way you can have true fellowship with those entrusted to your care. You openly acknowledge the realities of the differences of the people around you and interact with them with honesty and clarity.

Courage to Lead

This is where your courage as a leader takes place because this way of leading and relating brings with it the possibility of conflict and disagreement. When two individuals who are not the same come down on opposite sides of things, you must have courage to be authentic and transparent. 

As I stated earlier, this is the price you pay for the kind of fellowship that grows out of honest interaction. It is inevitable. On the other hand, it is a gift that helps you lead with love and respect. It is not easy. Don’t try to avoid or minimize the conflict. See it as an opportunity to become the person and leader you were created to be. 

Your Next Step

This week, take a moment to reflect upon the conflict you are facing. As you focus upon the people involved, are you able to set aside your personal feelings? Are you able to listen to what is being said and to the feelings being expressed? As you listen, where can you work for positive and constructive change? 

Decide how you can best lead in the midst of the situation. Share your decision with a trusted friend. Offer your decisions and conversations to God and move forward with courage. You are not alone. Walk in the light and be who God created you to be. 

No matter how difficult, when you dare to lead with authenticity, working to transform conflict into healthy relationships, you will discover the fellowship God has intended for all God’s creation. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

In a day of conflict and controversy, you want to work with family members, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, to face the conflict, to deal with change, and to make a meaningful difference in the world. 

You know that good leadership includes teaching and learning, building relationships and influencing people. At times you feel that it would be so much easier to exercise the power of your position, but you know your leadership is not about you or how you feel. In fact, you know you must be willing to give up who we are in order to become all that we can be. 

You want to reach your potential while developing the potential of the people you lead. But at the moment, you feel inadequate. 

  • You know what you want, the question is how do you get it?
  •  You know where you want to go, but how do you get there? 

Those are excellent questions. 

Helping You Help Others

I want you to know that you are not alone. I have been working to answer those questions most of my adult life. In fact, that is part of the reason I am writing to you today. I want to assist you in becoming the leader you have been created to be. I want you to be so effective in your leadership that you are helping others develop their potential as well. 

I want you to know that you have been created for this point and time in history. God has given you strengths and talents to face the conflicts, to bring about the change, to live into your potential as you develop the potential of others. Let’s look at the scripture for some insight. 

Address the Conflict

In 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Paul is addressing conflict in the first-century church. He is writing to address the tension between people fascinated with spirituality and spiritual gifts. 

I want to focus on one part of his writing as a way of talking about your strengths and talents and upon how you might use your strengths and talents in addressing the issues you are facing. I want you to use your strengths and talents in the way God has created you to use them. 

  1. In his writing, Paul uses the term “one body with many members.” 

He is using a common metaphor to illustrate the nature of the church. 

The people in the Roman society understood “one body with many members,” as a way of keeping the lower social classes “in their place.” The thought and practice of the day, to keep the society healthy, was that everyone had their place. 

No Part is More Important than Another

Paul changes the use of the image to emphasize the equality of each member of the body. He is not saying “everyone has their place.” He is saying, no one part of the body is more important than any other part of the body.

When he talks of the body of Christ, he is not talking about a gathering of persons who call themselves Christians. He is talking about each member participating in the body of the living Christ. 

Being a member means being a functioning organ in a living body. Membership, in this sense, is not about having your name on a list and paying your dues. Being a member of the body of Christ is to be a living, contributing part of an organism, as opposed to being a member of an organization. 

This is why it is important that you know your strengths and talents, that you know the strengths and talents of the people you lead (family, colleagues, friends), and that you bring your strengths together with their strengths to meet your purpose. 

  1. In a living body, variety is necessary, not merely tolerated. 

Being a Jesus follower is a matter of interdependence, not independence. The “superior” members, either in spirituality or social and economic class, cannot say to the “inferior” members, “we can get along without you.” The same is true regarding the common folks who “have the spirit.” 

You cannot disregard the “high and mighty.” 

So, there is a variety of strengths and talents all for the same purpose. Paul is stressing a mutual dependence, which is again a modification of the self-sufficiency held in high regard in his day. 

  • How are you relating to the people around you? 
  • How are you allowing the strengths of others to support and complement your strengths? 

Remember, you are not in this life, work, or family alone. You are more who you were created to be when you are living in relationship with the people around you. 

  1. Leadership is not a position, but a God-given gift. 

Paul illustrates the need for all the strengths and talents given by God. Although he names a few of the gifts or strengths, he is not giving a precise or complete list. He is not ranking them in priority order. But he is giving an example of what is needed at that particular time for the building up of the church. 

There is a need for those who are sent out in God’s love and a need for those who can name current reality as well as hold a vision for the future. There is a need for teachers, healers, and caregivers. There is a need for persons who have the capacity to do concrete deeds of helpfulness to those in need. And there is the need for leaders. Not only persons with administrative and organizational competence, but the ability to offer wise counsel and guidance. 

You don’t have to hold an office or a position to be a person of wise counsel and guidance. There is not an election that makes you wise. Only becoming who God created you to be, makes you wise in your leadership.

  1. Love makes the difference 

Paul gives a concrete expression of the life of a Jesus follower in the midst of the conflicts of a first-century church. In I Corinthians 13, Paul states that 

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” 

Love is an integral part of the context of the conflict. Apart from this context, it is too easy to misunderstand its meaning and purpose. It is too easy to misuse its purpose for sentimentality. Paul wants you to know that love is the way of the Jesus follower. I want you to know that love is the way of a courageous leader. 

Love is the Way

Love is not itself a spiritual gift or strength superior to all other gifts or strengths. But it is the way of the Jesus follower. It guides the use and application of all your strengths. It should go without saying, your strengths, without love, amount to nothing. So, with love, you can use your strengths as God created you to use them. Unlike all the other gifts, which are temporary and provisional, love lasts into the dawning of the new day. Love is a gift of a leader. 

Love is working for the well-being of the people around you as well as your business, organization, family, or team. Ultimately, your leadership is not about you or how you feel. Your leadership is about developing the potential of the people you lead. 

Your Next Steps

So, here is what I want you to do this week:

  • If you have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, look at your top 5 strengths. How are you using your strengths in your everyday life? If you are unsure, contact Sara Thomas. She will help understand your strengths so you can become the person and leader you have been created to be. You cannot become who you need to be until you become who God created you to be.
  • If you have not taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, then it is time that you did. You can learn your natural talents and maximize your potential. Click here to explore your strengths. Contact Sara if you’d like to get access for a group or team.
  • Make time to learn the strengths of the people around you. Help them discover and develop their strengths. Understanding and accepting their strengths helps you to see that each person is needed, that you can trust them to provide what you do not provide, and that you are humble enough to admit that you cannot know or do everything.
  • Make a conscious decision that you will lead with love. Discover the awesomeness of the human potential for which God has made you responsible.

By knowing your own strengths and the strengths of the people around you, you will become a courageous leader, who with colleagues, friends, and family, can face the conflicts, deal with the change, and make a meaningful difference in the community in which you live work and play.