In the first half of this blog I explored Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18 on how to deal with things when you have been harmed by someone. I looked at how in contrast this teaching has often been used for dealing with disagreements and conflict with the effect of establishing who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’. I will turn now to the work of Speed Leas to understand why the application of Matthew 18:15-18 in win-lose conflict situations is usually unhelpful.

Understanding the Levels of Conflict.

Speed Leas is a retired minister with the United Church of Christ who has made significant contributions to the understanding of conflict thanks to his work in churches, communities and with civil rights. He named 5 levels through which conflict can progress, starting with a simple difference through to an intractable situation in which parties seek the destruction of those opposed to them. Helpfully as well, he outlines the approaches that work best towards resolution at each level. Interestingly in conflicts, different parties can be at different levels, but to resolve the situation action needs to be taken that is appropriate to the highest level present in the conflict.

A Level 3 conflict is one in which at least one party has adopted a win-lose stance; at this level it is no longer possible for the parties to ‘talk things through together’ to resolve things – either on their own or with a third party present.  In other words, if you are in active disagreement with someone in an area at least one of you has charactersied in terms of ‘right and wrong’, then the conflict between you is at Level 3 at least. When we start seeing things as ‘right and wrong’, in ‘black and white’ terms, we are adopting a win-lose stance. In this case ‘going to your brother’ and trying to ‘win him over’ is not going to be helpful in resolving the conflict and restoring the relationship because the aim is still simply to WIN; each side wants to prove that they are right and the other side is wrong.

Instead what needs to happen is for both sides to move from a win-lose stance to one in which there is mutual openness and commitment to find a win-win way forward together. This is a hard thing for us humans to do, it requires a high level of maturity, self awareness, integrity and humility. Most of us need some level of support with this, a good option is to enlist the help of someone external to the situation who is neutral in terms of the issue. Their job will be to listen well to each of you deeply understanding your interests in the situation, and support you to make the shift away from the win-lose stance. Their other task is to help you both maintain healthy modes of relating and communicating so that no (further) harm is inflicted, this is crucial to prevent the slip back to win-lose and the escalation of the conflict.

Only when there is a mutual commitment not to cause harm and a climb down from the win-lose stance is it helpful to come together and talk through the disagreement. In this state the aim can be to care for each others’ interests in a mutually constructive way, rather than for one party to establish dominance over the other. In this state too it is possible to address any harm that has been done (as per Matthew 18:15-18) without confusing the harm with the issues around which there has been disagreement.

Win-Lose and Right and Wrong 

As Christians it is not unusual to find ourselves taking a win-lose stance on an issue that we perceive as a matter of ‘right and wrong’. It is easy to assume that something we feel strongly about as a matter of right and wrong is an issue of ‘sin’. It is really important that we bear in mind the value that the scripture places on Justice, Mercy and Compassion and Jesus’ teaching and example on how we relate to one another. When we don’t do this, we may find ourselves causing harm to others in the name of our strongly held opinions; something that we don’t ever see Jesus doing. We can (and should) do a lot of work ourselves, soul-work, to move away from this win-lose stance, but it is really good to seek the help of a trusted and experienced other. 

I opened part one of this post with a situation in which myself and another person applied Matthew 18:15-18 to a disagreement with disastrous effects. Our conflict was at least at Level 3, evidenced both by the harm we had done each other and our win-lose stance. What we needed was a facilitated process that would help us articulate our interests and the primary/root issues, and shift from our win-lose to a win-win stance, all this before ever coming together for a facilitated conversation. Separately we needed to address and put right the harm we had both done and experienced.  

Bibliography:

Heyne, M and Gallagher, R. Levels of Conflict: based on the work of Speed Leas (PDF) available on line here.

Kale, D. (2003) Managing conflict in the church. Kansas City, Nazarene Publishing House.

5 Levels Diagram from www.leadinganswers.com 

Photos by Lisa Summer and Cottonbro Studio from Pexels.com 

 

 

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Claire Bankole

Claire Bankole

CEO and Coach

Claire is responsible for Training, Coaching and Formation at SYC. She not only provides Life Coaching to many individuals from many walks of life, but also Leadership Coaching to leaders of community facing organisations and teams. 

She continues to work with young people on a one to one basis and through training. She also trains mentors and teams to be more effective at bringing out the best in those they work with.

Claire also leads the design, writing and delivery of SYC’s Bespoke Training.