When serving in ministry, workers will likely deal with conflict. Whether you’re a volunteer on the church security team or the ministry secretary, it’s crucial to know how to defuse a situation verbally, resolving the conflict before it escalates.
One key to verbal de-escalation is staying emotionally neutral, says longtime law enforcement officer Juan Barrientes. He founded the Barrientes Training Group and has trained hundreds of police officers in verbal de-escalation techniques.
“We have to separate our intellect from our emotions,” Barrientes says. “When we stay neutral and exercise a third-person view of a situation, we can use our intellect to defuse hostility and begin to settle the conflict.”
It’s often impossible to settle a conflict until you understand its cause. That’s where listening skills enter the equation. Listen to both sides and demonstrate genuine concern for each person. You don’t have to agree with their perspectives; you just have to see their perspective—and ask questions, if necessary—to clarify the cause of the conflict. There are two different types of causes of conflict:
Foundational cause: The real reason for the conflict. Foundational causes range from insecurities to money problems to trust issues.
Precipitating cause: The triggering event for the conflict, or what sets someone off. Precipitating causes could be a child acting up, the loss of a job, or a medical diagnosis.
A good listener can find the foundational cause of a conflict, which makes it easier to de-escalate the situation.
Barrientes uses a five-step process for verbally resolving conflict that is based on Verbal Judo:
Ask the party to speak with you about the conflict; do not tell them to “come over here” or “listen to me.” Ask in a calm, respectful manner. A speaker’s tone is often more important than the words he or she uses.
Set the context—or the parameters—of the situation to define the issue and help everyone to see the conflict from a third-person perspective. For example, if there is a dispute over a non-custodial parent taking a child home from the church nursery, a worker could set the context by saying, “Your child’s safety is important to us. My job as a volunteer is to make sure he is safely returned to the proper parent according to our nursery’s policies. I’d like to think we can work that out together.” Setting the context can help explain why the conflict is occurring and may lead the parties to understand what the proper resolution is.
Explain the options for resolving the conflict. This helps the parties to understand that they have power over the outcome and are not being backed into a corner.
Confirm that both parties agree on the proper action. This continues to empower them to resolve the conflict, instead of the parties feeling as if someone else is forcing them to do something.
Act. Put the chosen option into practice and resolve the conflict.
Conflicts occur everywhere—even at church. By using verbal de-escalation techniques, ministry workers can help to maintain a peaceful and caring atmosphere in their ministries.
*Verbal Judo concepts used with permission of Verbal Defense & Influence.
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