Know your conflict style

By Bob Bickford

“Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional” –Max Lucado

In leading a Replant you’ll encounter conflict, it’s not a matter of if, only when and how much. Your people and leaders will be watching how you personally handle conflict and how you handle conflict will set the tone for their responsiveness and respect of your leadership. The way you handle conflict can either bring unity and forward progress or mire you in the dysfunction and decline of the past.

Are you prepared to respond in a way that honors Jesus and moves the church forward in its mission to make disciples who make disciples?
You’re not and won’t, if you don’t understand your approach to handling conflict and the strengths and weaknesses of your conflict style.

Conflict Style: your personal predisposition and approach toward conflicts both large and small.

One recognized and widely respected conflict style assessment is the Thomas Killman Conflict Mode Instrument. I’ve used this brief survey hundreds of times with teams and with couples in pre-marital counseling. It’s simple, easy to take and incredibly accurate.

The TKI reveals 5 styles or modes of handling conflict and arranges them on a scale between high and low assertiveness, and high and low cooperativeness.

Here are the five modes or styles of handling conflict identified in the TKI:

  • Competing: Is assertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy your own concerns at the other person’s expense.
  • Collaborating: Is both assertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to find a win-win solution that completely satisfies the concerns of both individuals involved.
  • Compromising: Is intermediate in both assertiveness and cooperativeness. In this mode, you try to find an acceptable solution that only partially satisfies both individual’s concerns.
  • Avoiding: Is both unassertive and uncooperative. In this mode, you work to sidestep the conflict without attempting to satisfy either individual’s concerns.
  • Accommodating: Is unassertive and cooperative. In this mode, you try to satisfy the other person’s concerns at the expense of your own concerns.

In terms of style you’ll likely have a predominate approach when facing conflict with several back up styles. 

Apply this to Replanting

Churches experiencing long decline are likely not handing conflict well and are led by leaders who do the same. 

Two extremes are common in declining churches: conflict occurs frequently and is fierce-creating factions and fractures in the church body. Or, conflict lies beneath the surface, simmering and hiding, people have learned to internalize it and rarely speak of it or when they do only in hushed tones.

A Pastor who consistently avoids conflict will be mired in a church with conflict.

Dominating personalities (either Pastor or Lay Persons) create a climate where there may be a feeling of unity but in reality there is a lack of unity.

Conflict handled the right way can produce a stronger and more faithful church.

Conflict consistently handled the wrong way produces a weak and sick church.

Pastors and leaders can grow in their ability to handle conflicts in a Christ honoring and healthy way.

Growth and the lack of growth, create conflicts for the leaders and the church.

Conflict is not the end of the story, but the beginning place of God’s work where the power of the gospel can be displayed.

God uses conflict to bring us to the end of ourselves and to bring us together—this occurs only if we cooperate with him by surrendering our pride, fear and agendas as we experience conflict in our churches.

The Bible is the standard by which we resolve all our conflicts as believers and Christ followers. Peace keeping through avoidance and deciding conflict by majority may diffuse tension in the body—but they may also lead us away from God’s blessing, especially when these means of deciding lead us away from God’s will for the church.

Strong vibrant churches experience conflicts regularly. They also resolve them quickly, lovingly and graciously.

Handling conflict in a way that is both assertive and cooperative will help your church move forward on mission. When you learn your conflict style, its strengths and limitations, you’ll be better equipped to respond and then lead your Replant.

Published February 8, 2017

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick