Posted by: endithinks | October 2, 2010

Conflict and committees

Committees that meet only a few times a year are an interesting team. They are like expansion teams in the NFL.  They feel new and sorta exciting and just a bit disjointed, but they have lots and lots of draft picks and the chance to pick a totally new mascot.  They tend to be on one hand tiring and on the other unpredictable.  An experience today also brought out another aspect of meetings of the mind, conflict.

This afternoon as the meeting was coming to a close a swath of disapproval and emotionally charged anger burst into being as a speaker was trying to clarify a statement and the word choice the speaker used jolted a small group in the larger group.  The words were innocent, but the smaller group rose up as if someone had stolen their last piece of corn on the cobb while they were watching the kids play with the neighborhood dog.

The underlying problem was that we had never discussed how to combat conflict.   There will always be conflict in the world and the type of conflict that can arise in non profits rivals those of churches and synagogues.  We are all passionate people who all tend to have deep-seated emotions in regards to our particular angle.  This afternoon we failed in addressing a simple matter of civility and I’m afraid we may have harmed one of the most dedicated team members in the process.

Conflict is inevitable, but being cold and hurtful is not necessarily included in the recipe.  People need to learn how to disagree without jumping on each other and to always remember who their allies are and that the enemy is outside of the group not within.

Non profit organizations have resources that are stretched thin like salt water taffy and the only thing keeping most participants involved in the process is their emotional attachment to the mission of that non profit.  We need to recognize that the perks are few, but they are powerful.  Emotional responses to simple communication differences do nothing but sully the water and hurt the feelings of those that are left in a defensive mode.  I tried to smooth things over by appealing to a moderate view, but the combatants would not listen.  Eventually the discussion was “tabled” for a more opportune time.  Punting is what you do on fourth down.

One major lesson I’m taking from this is that conflict needs to be taught and discussed before a meeting of the scale of a workshop begins.  How will we disagree?  What are the rules of engagement if and when a disagreement occurs?  Who is the referee and who can call a timeout?  Getting clear on the how’s involved with dealing with conflict will lessen the need for apologies later.

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