Everyone brings his or her own perspective to situations. That’s why when multiple people witness an accident, multiple versions of that accident result.
To foster better understanding among individuals in relationships and to curb or manage conflicts before they escalate, Msgr. Doug Doussan, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in New Orleans, offers a workshop combining a spiritual and management approach to conflict.
“Jesus came to give us peace,” Msgr. Doussan told more than 20 individuals gathered at Loyola University Sept. 10 for “Preventing, Managing and Resolving Conflict.” “He doesn’t want us to be in turmoil. It’s a gift we have to pray for.”
Throughout the five-hour session, attendees examined the causes of conflict, trust (and what erodes it), inclusion and how to deal with conflict even if it can’t be resolved.
“We have a tool you can use to make it more clear on how you are dealing with conflict resolution now,” he said.
Everyone has a story
Lively discussion began when recent conflicts were shared at each table and possible causes and prevention explored, including looking inward about individual styles and reactions.
After sharing, one participant said he found a more peaceful feeling and was open to new ideas.
“If you deal with a problem as it develops, it will prevent it from becoming a bigger problem,” Msgr. Doussan said. “Preventing conflict is critical. Otherwise, you will always be dealing with conflict.”
He related these strategies critical for preventing conflict:
‰Developing inner peace (if you are angry inside, you react negatively to others);
‰Living a life of integrity so that “what we say and what we do are welded together so that no one of these is ever given permission to stray from the other”;
‰Practicing charity (giving the benefit of a doubt) and pastoral care;
‰Building ownership by developing clear and agreed-upon goals, roles and expectations;
‰Building relationships of trust;
‰Being pro-active and inclusive;
‰Thinking win-win (so everyone is comfortable with a solution);
‰Listening with a desire to understand;
‰Learning to value differences.
He taught what he called “embarrassingly simple” skills to resolve conflicts that included maintaining eye contact when speaking to someone, reaffirming what they say and repeating what a person says non-judgmentally so there is no misunderstanding.
Take a deep breath
As people of faith, he urged participants to respond to others in a manner that reflects their Christian values and to wait before reacting to something negatively. He quoted Stephen Covey when he said there should be a “gap between stimulus and response.”
Msgr. Doussan exposed the difference between position (objectives that you want to accomplish) and interest (why you want it) in a conflict through an exercise. Conflict resolution is greater once the difference is distinguished.
Two participants role-played a priest and a parishioner in a conflict over the parishioner volunteering for a position but not attending a critical meeting she was to lead because she had made previous plans with friends. As details of the conflict surfaced, one realized that it wasn’t just about the meeting. Underlying conflicts existed in their relationship – the priest often calling meetings at the last minute; the parishioner feeling overworked and under appreciated. They worked to devise a solution agreeable to both, with input from attendees.
“One of the best ways to deal with conflict is to look at all the options,” Msgr. Doussan said. “The thing that people do least is listen. If we took the time to listen, there wouldn’t be conflict.”
Where it came from
While on a sabbatical after burning out as a pastor in a parish for 23 years, Msgr. Doussan attended Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, to study conflict resolution for a semester. He developed a conflict plan infused with tenets from Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and a course in management.
He’s given the workshop for various groups and church parishes, and attendees have said it was helpful.
“I hope to open up to people new possibilities to deal with conflict and to help them be more courageous and see that conflicts can be dealt with in a more peaceful way,” Msgr. Doussan said. “It doesn’t have to be a knock-down confrontation. I really think a lot of people stay away from conflict because they don’t know that skills are available to deal with them more easily.”
Ava Smith and Olga Jackson, who are friends and have been coworkers, learned much from the seminar.
“I developed some skills for conflict resolution that I’d like to practice and even have more help in practicing,” Smith said. “It also gave me insight of myself. I need to be a better listener in a Jesus-centered, loving and nonjudgmental way and to realize that there is a time that the other person’s feelings should be addressed.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.