Conflict in a church office can begin a variety of ways: an employee learns what a colleague earns and becomes jealous; one person gets a promotion over another; a subordinate continually makes insulting jokes and jabs, undermining morale.
What should we do when this happens? Here are some typical steps to consider when conflict happens in your office:
1. Acknowledge the conflict: By saying, “Yes, this is a conflict,” you have identified it and can now contain it. Ken Sande from Peacemaker Ministries suggests the “Three-Day Rule.” Many conflicts are minor and can be overlooked. But, if after three days you are still feeling angry, hurt, or insulted, then you need to resolve the conflict.
2. Get the log out of your own eye: Conflict is often seen in the Bible, so we shouldn’t be surprised to get great advice there as well. Jesus asked:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
—Matthew 7:3-5 (NIV)
Practically, this means reflecting on what you have brought to the problem. We all want to think that the other person is 100 percent to blame. How can you unearth what your part of the problem is?
3. Allow for two confidants: Everybody needs a confidant, a person that they can share their story with and get honest and supportive feedback (I recommend men talk with men and women talk with women). Many times people do well with one office confidant and one non-office confidant.
Here is how to use a confidant:
- Ask your confidant to keep your story confidential;
- Ask your confidant to let you tell your side of the problem;
- Specifically ask your confidant: “What could I have done better?” and “Are there amends that I need to make?” and “How do you think I can resolve the issue?”
- Don’t have a hallway conversation;
- Make an appointment. “Jim, you and I had a conflict yesterday, and I would like to spend some time talking with you about it. When would be a good time for you?”
- Talk face-to-face. Do not talk via email or phone. Use the phone, if geography dictates, but don’t use email—it almost never works. Email is like pouring gasoline on the fire!
- Keep the main issues on the table. Perhaps write down your thoughts.
4. Go and talk to the other person: For most office conflicts, this is the best approach. Don’t go alone if the conflict involves physical or sexual abuse.
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
—Matthew 18:15 (NIV)
Here are some guidelines for conversations like this:
5. Involve your supervisor: If the one-on-one talk doesn’t work, then involve your supervisor. If the conflict is with your supervisor, then get the next person in the hierarchy. You want to follow the intent of Jesus’ words:
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
—Matthew 18:16 (NIV)
In the office, I rarely talk about lines of authority (meaning reporting relationships between bosses, managers, and supervisors, and employees, direct reports, and subordinates.) But with an office conflict, it is vital to follow these lines. It ensures each party in the conflict gets treated fairly. It’s also the legal way to handle conflict—only involve the necessary people.
Rarely, if ever, involve the “big boss.” When we jump around our supervisors, we don’t treat them well and so we dishonor God. However, you may need to inform the big boss of the conflict.