Conflict resolution in small groups

How do you judge the health and success of any small group? Surprisingly perhaps, it’s NOT by whether they have conflicts or not. Marriage counselors, executive coaches and group dynamics experts agree that conflicts will be inevitable. It’s how small groups handle those conflicts which arise that determines their health and longevity. Spoiler alert! Ultimately the key is mutual respect and love overcoming fear. Let’s consider the pandemic dilemma of in person versus online meetings, for example. Fortunately, name calling and back biting is relatively rare in Christian small groups. However, what is a fairly common dynamic is withholding opinions due to fear of being judged. Especially the unspoken fears of:

  • Getting ill and dying from COVID-19,
  • Fear of being judged as being computer illiterate,
  • Fear of expressing personal or family needs requirements or obstacles,
  • Fear of being thought to be spiritually immature or selfish

It is embarrassing to admit to many of our fears in a public forum, so therefore we tend to keep silent and wait and see how the majority feels and then silently slip away if the vote goes against our fears.

One solution to best determine unspoken fears or opinions is to ask open-ended questions (one-on-one in private if possible). For example:

  1. What do you like most about meeting online? (Or, what do you like least…?)
  2. What worries you most about meeting in person? And, what concerns do you have about meeting online? (After you’ve listened to their comments, it’s usually helpful to rephrase what they’ve said and repeat it back in order to minimize misunderstanding.)

Another source of potential conflict in groups regards meeting times. Open-ended questions such as “What would your personal challenges be to meeting in the evening, say from 8 to 9 pm?” You might be surprised to hear that their spouse needs to get up at 4 am to get to work at a construction office site by 5 am, or a military early maintenance shift… and that meeting an hour earlier would make life much easier for them.)

Assuming that your group desires to stay together if at all possible, here are some other options to consider:

  • If computer software fear is a concern, plan for individual or group training sessions on Zoom, for example.
  • Compromise. Don’t dictate. Don’t make assumptions. Try to hear everyone’s needs and fears and consider all options, such as meeting in person, but outside, or in a larger facility with adequate airflow.
  • Consider joining another group with a different tolerance for risk or with similar underlying health concerns. Or, split your group up for a trial period of separation, with the idea of re-grouping later as circumstances change.
  • Seek wise counsel from coaches or other leaders.
  • Final option: Disband the group on friendly terms. Give yourself and each other permission to end or change groups. It’s OK. To everything there is a time and season.

In conclusion… prayer, respect, love. We all have fears, but we can solve most conflicts through love and respect for one another. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)

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