There are a lot of problems common to leadership that trip up people who haven’t had training in group dynamics, communication, or who haven’t been encouraged to do self-reflective work. Or even just people who have poor self esteem and have no idea how that impacts them and the group they are running.
We’ll call this “honest mistakes.” These are the honest mistakes that can cost us a great deal; they can blow up a group, and leave us wondering what happened.
Authenticity is a complicated word. We are told to be authentic. However, we also face a lifetime of expectations, of being conditioned by the cultural norms to try to meet the expectations of others.
When we begin to first stretch our wings, to be authentic to what we really want, there’s sometimes a clash between trying to continue satisfying everyone else’s expectations of my actions and doing what I have previously committed to….This sometimes conflicts with our desire to live an authentic life, to follow the dreams we may have only just admitted we have for our lives.
And those dreams may be very different from what everyone around us “wants” for us or expects of us. Trying to become more authentic is where many of us first learn to say, “No, that’s not what I want for my life.”
I admit it. The first times I’ve heard about an “orgy cabin” at particular Pagan festivals or gatherings, my hackles went up. “Eeew,” I thought. “That can’t be ethical, can it?”
Yes. I’m actually talking about an orgy cabin. A cabin (or tent, or room) at a Pagan (or other) event where people are free to express various kinds of sexual touch and sexual contact. Yes, these things happen.
No, I’ve never been invited to one. (We can laugh about that part later.)
When hearing about group leaders being participants in the orgy cabin, I thought, “Whoa. No way that can be appropriate for a leader, right?” But then I put on my sex positive hat and think about it. If everyone in there is of age and consenting, is freely expressing sexuality inherently wrong?
In the previous posts in this series, we’ve talked a bit about the challenge when you have issue with a leader. I’ve focused primarily on leaders who are in the level of incurable jerk, in other words, folks who aren’t going to listen to any feedback.
Dissent is part of a healthy group. There’s a difference between dissent and dissension–dissent is a disagreement, dissension is a quarrel. The problem in our communities is twofold; leaders don’t always provide a way to offer feedback about their leadership. So people gossip behind their backs. Feedback happens. But, how can we make it more constructive?
Here are the red flags that I observed about the problematic person I mentioned in Part 5 (and others in similar situations) that allowed me to paint a fairly accurate profile of how they were going to behave. You’ll really want to read at least Part 5 in the Conflict Resolution series, if not the whole set of articles, to get context for the profile of behaviors below.
I touched on this a little in the previous 4 articles on Conflict Resolution and the rest of the leadership series. However, it’s worth stating more explicitly. Sometimes, it’s not worth bending over backwards to try and sheepdog people into a conflict resolution. Sometimes, people are just going to keep causing drama.
In fact, the very drama of trying to get them into a mediated session is the drama that they want. Usually these are the egomaniacs and unstable mentally ill people I’ve mentioned before. Typically they have no idea that they are literally bending situations to create even more drama.
Now that we’ve talked about a lot of the underlying causes of conflicts and the needs beneath them, lets talk about the actual process of trying to resolve a conflict between two or more people in some kind of mediated session.
By the time a conflict has gotten to the point where people are pissed off and not speaking and it’s a struggle to get them into a room with each other, your chances of positively resolving the conflict are pretty low, which is why the rest of the series of articles focuses on understanding conflict and unraveling it before it gets that far.
Now, there’s lots of different ways of getting people to the table. A mediation is different in some ways from a facilitated session where you, as the group leader, have the power to render a judgment and kick someone out of a group. It helps to understand what type of conflict resolution session you’re engaging in.
When a conflict resolution works it’s a great thing. However, the reason I started out the leadership series by talking about unsolvable conflicts, and in specific, talking about intractably bad leaders who are egomaniacs, jerks, or who have major untreated mental illnesses…is because with anyone in these categories, it doesn’t matter if you are a master at conflict resolution. Nothing is going to heal that conflict. Nothing is going to change someone who isn’t aware and willing to change.
Nonviolent Communication (or NVC), and other tools I work with, are about understanding the need that underlies the action. If I can understand why someone just did a really mean thing, I can understand why, and we have an opportunity to resolve it.
It’s still not okay to be a jerk to someone, but, without knowing why it happened and why, we can’t even get at a forward momentum for resolution, everything we do will just be rehash.
I’m often asked, “How do you smooth over a conflict,” or, “How do you keep things from blowing up,” or, “How do you resolve a conflict without ruffling feathers?”
While it depends greatly upon the situation, in general I’d offer that this points to our cultural fear around conflict.We are conflict avoidant, and trying to smooth over a conflict without expecting it to be uncomfortable is the wrong approach.
What people really want to know is, “How can I resolve a conflict without anyone feeling uncomfortable, without someone getting upset at me.”