Power of Conflict: Organized Groups
Conflict. Even the spoken syllables of the word seem to clash. Conflict can be minor, quick or it can be loud, violent, and last a long time, even multiple lifetimes. Is conflict always unwanted? Storytellers use conflict to drive their story. Teachers who use the Socratic method creates conflict in their students as they wrestle with a concept. Conflict seems to be basic to life growth, change, and evolution whether between man and man, man and nature, or man and himself.
People form organized groups to influence public policy, serve a need, or share an interest. When the group stays on goal, conflict works in the most positive way. Should the organized group falter, lose site of their goal or becomes hijacked by a hidden agenda, the group unravels. Off-mission activities creates an uneasiness in the members. This uneasiness spurs caring members to nudge the organization back on purpose, clashing with forces that moved off-mission. Soon, there are many plans, and lots of discussion and criticism of each plan, the membership becomes paralyzed by indecision and confusion. Defeatism camouflages well into chronic criticism, bullying, and apathy; in-fighting.
This general pattern plays out in relationships, and between countries. Every war and partnership split began with words, and one party or both changing their goal. Oddly, partnerships and countries respond to mediation or counseling better than organized groups.
No one likes to deal with conflict, not even mediators or counselors. Depending upon the dedication to a positive outcome, staying together or living in peace, conflict can be controlled. In organized groups, the general membership rarely has this dedication. Individuals have a natural aversion to conflict, especially if they are only spectators. These members stay away from meetings, to avoid conflict, and eventually lose interest in the group. With few members in attendance, it becomes impossible for proper motions or resolutions to be passed that could address the current conflict, or give rules for the future. So, only stakeholders in the conflict, either directly or as supporters to either side, attend meetings and populate the forums and Facebook feeds. Because these members are entangled in the conflict, their emotions cloud their thinking, causing a warped idea of what is factual, and the organization’s welfare is left behind. If not handled, the organized group moves into dysfunction, indicated by members who will not step up for leadership roles, or membership and donations hit an all time low. Since neither side relents, to dissolve the entity is the only option. Even so, conflict has its positive effects, in teaching lessons to participants and serving as a warning to other groups flirting with this outcome.
Criticism of one event or policy by members show they are paying attention, and if a resolution is found, the conflict was natural and will lead to growth. However, when one disagreement turns into two, or takes on other aspects — like arguing about the refreshments — it is a sure sign focus on the organization’s mission is being pushed by a hidden agenda, personal need to be right, or attempt at control.
In today’s world, aversion to conflict is understandable. People are living busy lives while receiving media messages filled with conflict outcomes: road rage, school and workplace shooting, economic volatility, and weather threats. After years of fear messages to win elections, pinched bank accounts, increased productivity for stagnate pay, and an unequal system in a country based on equality, nerves and sensibilities are frayed. The adage ‘know how to pick your fights’ has become a daily mantra. Fewer and fewer fights are being picked under the threat of concealed weapons and a mental health epidemic heightened by the stress from conflict and prescription drugs. So, when arguments grow loud over momentary important issues at organized group meetings, our survival system is stimulated into conscious attention. If arguments continue overtime, members aversion to conflict overshadows by their perceived benefit of membership, and time commitment to the group.
So how do we best handle and take control of the conflict? We must be quick to identify it and address it head-on. Why is this conflict before us? Is it here to teach or is it friction between changed goals or hidden agendas? Leaders aren’t the only ones with the job to identify and control conflict, members must stay diligent as watchdogs for natural differences of opinion that cross the line of respect and cooperation. Members must speak up in meetings, and privately to leadership when a situation is getting out of control. Leadership should speak with each side of the conflict, and attempt to mediate a solution, even hire a trained mediator if necessary. If this doesn’t end the conflict, then include those who spoke up in the process, requesting they make a motion for vote, and holding to the vote outcome. If the conflict continues, the leadership should ask one or both parties to leave, either permanently or until they can work together for the good of all. Good bylaws have language for this situation, but some don’t. Should the parties refuse to accept their sentence (their focus is on being right or power or a hidden agenda and not the organization or its mission) ask them if hurting the organization is desired. If they don’t refocus, or disrespect leadership, there is no other choice but to dissolve the organization.
Positive conflict, that which is for our betterment often feels like the conflict above, can be just as confusing and stressful. It is the mindset of the parties involved that change it into a positive force — respect and civility, attentive listening, honesty, compromise, forgiveness, and a focus on the welfare of the organization first over personal ideas or accolades. As with much of life, conflict is part of our human experience, but it is how we approach and handle it that determines the outcome.
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