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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Conflict? Ask Ken: The Escalating Stages of Unresolved Church Conflict (Part 2)


This article picks up where last week’s article left off.

5.  A Person To Attack   (other person-focused, greater intensity)
A power struggle emerges. Parties now see themselves as adversaries and "antagonists" (a Greek word that means “to struggle against,” as in Hebrews. 12:4). When people begin to struggle against each other, watch out! An invisible line is crossed that does not bode well for that relationship or for the church.

At this stage, original issues and context become secondary. A myopia sets in. The problem is now identified as a person. He is / she is / they are the problem. An “us against them” mentality sets in. Emotions adversely affect objective thinking. Selective perception confirms and fuels negative stereotyping. Once stereotyped, the other side can be “written-off” as ________ (fill in the blank). Parties avoid each other and assume the worst of the other. In the absence of direct communication, each faction views the other through an increasingly distorted filter of suspicion, false assumptions, exaggeration, misinformation, and misperceptions.

Moreover, whereas each side justifies its own hostile behavior as reactions to its opponent and to external circumstances, the actions of one's adversaries are attacks attributed to internal deficiencies in their character, competency, or spirituality. Public admission of having exercised poor judgment or of having made a mistake becomes increasingly unlikely. In this negatively charged environment, such an acknowledgment would likely open oneself to embarrassment and further criticism. The disputing parties protect themselves, their vulnerabilities and insecurities, by attacking.

Researchers have found that the usefulness of direct, head-to-head negotiations decrease as the intensity of the dispute increases. Resistance intensifies against an adversary's ideas often  because it is one's adversary who proposed them. Negotiation may totally break down because of the apparent futility of further effort. Unilateral acts become the next logical step which inevitably lead to an escalation of the conflict. The need for a third-party mediator to bring needed perspective and constructive communicative processes to the conflict is great.

6.  My "Face" To Save   (self-focused, greatest intensity)
The term "face" refers to how a person is viewed by others. As long as someone is viewed as a respectable member of the community, all is well. But when one's public image is seriously challenged, watch out for a significant escalation of the conflict.

To have one's public image challenged is to be attacked on a very personal level. It is to be charged with maintaining a false facade. The attacker seeks to publicly “unmask” the other person's true and despicable identity. To the extent that this “insight” is believed, the prior course of the conflict is reinterpreted. With these new lenses, words or actions that may have been originally perceived in a positive light are now viewed as part of a larger, deceitful strategy. False motives are attributed throughout. The conflict is no longer understood in terms of shades of gray. It is perceived in terms of black and white and an ideological battle between the forces of good versus evil.

To “save face” against such an attack on one's identity, people will respond with an equally ferocious assault of their own. Disputants will unleash a torrent of negative descriptions against those who have attacked and maligned them, attempting in turn, to undercut and discredit them. They will label those on the other side as unreasonable, immoral, untrustworthy, mentally unbalanced, and/or sub-human. This conclusion justifies almost any action against the other side, exacerbating the cycle of conflict to dangerous levels.

The final stages of escalating church conflict will follow next week.  In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the stages presented above?  Have you personally experienced them?  If so, please share your experience with the rest of us that we may learn from it..

© 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger




Unique_help_1  © 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger
Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution and development specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs help resolving conflict, if you need individual coaching, or if you would like to develop a communicatively healthy church,  please visit Ken's website  at www.ResolveChurchConflict.com  or call 301-253-8877.

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August 4, 2005 in Church Conflict | Permalink

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Tracked on Aug 5, 2009 10:49:50 PM


If 'saving face' is a problem, I think the antidote is Gal. 2:20 (I no longer live, but Christ lives in me...)


Posted by: bernie dehler | Aug 8, 2005 5:08:09 PM

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