My wife is far-sighted and I am near-sighted. Because we each have a different strength with a corresponding weakness, we make a pretty good team. Without our glasses, we perceive the world differently. She can read road signs in the distance, but I can read menus. She keeps me from missing my exit, and I can tell her to order the chicken cacciatore. But when we both think we are absolutely right and the other person is totally wrong, there will be the inevitable conflict.
The cause of the conflict
What is at the core of the problem? Perceptions. Perceptions are simply cognitive pictures that are stored in the brain. They develop as a result of a complex combination of factors including concrete experiences, cultural beliefs, and social influences. Perceptions are often treated as “the truth” from those who hold them even if the perception is inaccurate, therefore making them very powerful. Perceptions can be changed, although not easily, through honest dialogue and changed behaviors.
Managing conflict is an important leadership skill to master in your workplace, church, or home. If you have identified that the cause of the conflict is having different perceptions, follow these two steps to help you diffuse the conflict.
1. Increase communication
When tensions are rising, increase communication by documenting why you have the perceptions you do and by actively listening to the viewpoints of others. Most of us have the tendency to try and connect the dots and make early conclusions in order to validate our own assumptions or perceptions. Therefore, the more “dots” of communication there are, the more likely you will be to arrive at an accurate conclusion or course of action.
2. Look at it from all angles
Try using the following perceptual positioning exercise to help you test the validity of your perceptions. Attached to those perceptions are normally strong emotions. Ultimately, it is best if the facts govern the emotional aspects when it comes time to find solutions. But if others feel they have not been heard or their position is not fairly represented, it will be a challenge for them to let go of their emotions long enough to reveal the real nature of the problem to be solved.
Running the Bases of Perceptual Positioning
FIRST BASE: Your View
Accurately articulate how you see a situation. Provide rationale for your opinion that is NOT emotionally charged or skewed by personal bias.
SECOND BASE: Their View
Put yourself in the “other guy’s shoes”. Without sarcasm, honestly try to express the logic, motive, and goals of those who oppose or disagree with you.
THIRD BASE: Observer View
Like a jury, objectively weigh the merits of each of the positions and make a decision about what seems like the best/wisest scenario or conclusion for the organization.
HOME PLATE: Stakeholder View
Did the leaders act maturely and in my best interest? Or did their egos get in the way of making a good decision?
Being able to look at a problem from different points of view is an important leadership skill that will help you to be a better leader. For more on managing conflict, read "The High Cost of Conflict" in FIT – Improving the Leadership Health of Yourself and Others.
Dave has over 35 years of church ministry experience including 23 years as a senior pastor. His consulting experience includes ministry assessment, leadership coaching, and strategic planning. Dave’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.S. in Organizational Leadership and a D.Min. in Leadership.