How comfortable are your councils and staff leadership with disagreement and conflict?

An area where I have been spending a good amount of time talking with pastoral leaders is the necessity for honest, unfiltered discussion.  But in order for this to occur participants of staffs and leadership councils require a relatively high threshold of comfort with disagreement and conflict.  No one really enjoys conflict but to receive the best consultation a certain level of healthy disagreement and even productive conflict may be required.  Patrick Lencioni even suggests it must be demanded by leaders to benefit from the very best thinking of those they rely on for good counsel.

With that in mind Lencioni describes the conflict a leadership team requires in order to develop the best ideas or solutions to the challenges we might face as a leader using the following continuum:

From the picture above, you see that the ideal conflict point is somewhere between "artificial harmony" and "personal attacks".  At some point constructive conflict moves into destructive conflict.  The goal of the leadership teams is to push the conflict level just to, but not over, the threshold where constructive conflict becomes destructive.  This is where the best ideological discussions allow for the best ideas to come forward.

Yet we each have our own threshold for our willingness to enter into conflict.  And how we can surpass our threshold of discomfort with conflict is to follow Mark Granovetter's Threshold Model for Collective Behavior.  Granovetter discovered that one's threshold to overcome a particular belief (such as the belief that conflict is bad, negative, or unproductive) is dependent upon the amount of people who participate in the behavior before one joins in.  So as the leader, modeling the willingness to participate in situations where constructive conflict will arise is important.  By showing a willingness to engage in constructive conflict as the leader automatically gives permission to the rest of the team to engage in conflict.  Granovetter's model also says the more people who demonstrate their willingness to engage in the behavior (ie. conflict - again, the constructive kind, not destructive - the more likely those who have a low threshold are willing to enter into such situations.  

Of course everyone has their own threshold when it comes to overcoming their beliefs.  So it may take some time.  But with perseverance, and consistency, most participants in your leadership teams should eventually be able to engage in the kind of conversations that will generate the creative, out of the box thinking required for 21st century challenges facing our Catholic Church.  

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