18 years ago, I began my journey into HR and member care in a mission organisation in Nepal. I thought it would be a walk in the park compared to HR in the NHS. Surely there would be no workplace disputes or team issues?! How wrong I was. However, I’m clearly not the only one who recognises that conflict is alive and causing dysfunction in mission today, given the full house at the recent GC Member Care Forum which looked at ‘Differences and Disagreements’.
Our speaker, Joe Campbell MBE, has a wealth of experience in dealing with conflict resolution in churches and organisations in Northern Ireland, Nepal and elsewhere. He also teaches on Redcliffe’s MA in Member Care on the issue of conflict resolution and the member care response. Listening to Joe’s gentle authority and learning from his deep experience felt like sitting at a never-ending chocolate fountain; so many truths heard and practical steps considered.
An important reminder was that as a member care worker, I need to stay rooted in God. He is the change agent and, whilst I am the conflict resolution facilitator, I am not the changer: the individuals involved must take responsibility and ownership of the outcome. So often, as member care workers, we want to help and offer solutions. Yet that is exactly what we cannot do. As Joe said, “Everyone wants a change, as long as they don’t have to change”. But people tend to ask for help in conflict because the pain has become unbearable.
Giving a safe space in which people can talk and be genuinely listened to is a vital part of helping resolve conflict. Pain needs to be acknowledged and positives held on to. It requires treating people gently and yet the issue needs to be dealt with firmly. Joe gave a real-life example of where God had intervened to help sides come to resolution when the situation had looked bleak. That’s a good reminder to ask God for his enabling and for his wisdom, that we would let God take control rather than trying to control things ourselves.
We need to be prepared to accept that sometimes it will not be possible to resolve a conflict. We may need to walk away and be honest about the fact that perhaps no one can help. I suspect that we can all think of a situation or two where this has happened. If you’re like me, someone who likes to give solutions, this could be personally difficult to handle and so it’s important to remember that the outcome is not our responsibility. It is also why member care workers should have supervision, but perhaps that’s a topic for another day.