Leadership and conflict

This is a scenario I’ve seen play out repeatedly in Pagan organisations, and which I assume happens other places too. It invariably causes a lot of trouble and distress, and I am absolutely certain that it could be handled differently.

In the beginning, two people get into conflict. Most usually this starts privately, but because both people are members of the same group, it either gets taken to that group in some way, or spills over into it. It can be a falling out, a communication breakdown, it can be one person harassing or bullying another. At this early stage, it is seldom possible to see the shape of the thing from the outside.

A person, or people with leadership roles and power say “ah, but it didn’t happen on our boards/facebook page, or at our event so we aren’t responsible for sorting it out.”

Where there is bullying, at this point the victim has no choice but to leave while the perpetrator often stays. I’ve said it before and will say it again – doing nothing is not a neutral stance, it is a choice that supports and enables bullying and abuse.

Where there is conflict, it may well spill out into the wider group. Leaders may not pile in, but friends will. You can end up with two sides and a deepening divide. You can end up with more people leaving because they don’t like how it’s been handled. If it really goes pear-shaped, you can tear the entire group apart and bring it to an end. By which point it most assuredly is on the boards, facebook page, and at any real world events and it is night on impossible to bring it back under control or sort anything out.

I think the problem stems from the current human fashion of seeing our lives as fragmented. What happens in one aspect of our lives, we suppose, won’t impact on another. I’ve seen this logic implied even when the police have been involved. We come to our Pagan groups as whole people, and if we fall out with other people, it has an impact.

I think one of the things that leadership means, is stepping in when things go wrong like this. Step in as soon as the problem is visible, and listen to all parties. If it’s the sort of thing that calls for police involvement, support the victim in getting the police involved. If someone is out of order, tell them – explain to them what’s gone wrong and why and what can be done about it. If communication has broken down, be the bridge, get things moving again. If it’s the kind of thing people should just be able to deal with and get over, listen to both side and tell them this, and it might help. People are more likely to accept that judgement if you hear them out first. A little witnessing and taking seriously can do a lot to deflate a conflict if you get in early.

Community does not mean giving up on people as soon as things get challenging. Community does not mean ignoring bullying. It does not mean turning a blind eye to problems. If we’re a community, then problems arising within the community affect all of us, and we all have some responsibility to respond, regardless of whether we lead. As for leadership – that doesn’t mean getting to do the things you want to do and ignoring what people want from you. Good leadership means looking after your people, especially when things go wrong.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

3 responses to “Leadership and conflict

  • stronglotusyogi

    So very true! I hope everyone takes something from this.

  • MacThule

    This is a perpetual human challenge, with a variety of somewhat effective response, and even more ineffective responses (among them, as you say, ignoring conflicts). No perfect solutions in an imperfect world though.

    Many communities achieve greater stability in the face of this by establishing an informal community arbiter or judge. Such arrangements have no power of enforcement, but because in such conflicts as you describe, the aggressor generally has a compelling interest in at least APPEARING interested in a fair and equal solution as part of their position that “I am not in the wrong here,” so both parties usually have a strong social incentive to voluntarily agree to informal arbitration and submit to the judgement of the arbiter as final, making no further dispute over the issue once resolved. If clique politics play too strong a role, arbitration can be delegated to neutral 3rd party – either a commercial arbitration service, or a representative from an associated community with similar values. In the end, so long as eventually a judge can be found that both parties agree is unbiased and neutral, the conflict can be resolved with a minimum of drama.

    I believe that one of the least effect ways of dealing with interpersonal conflicts within a community, and with accusations of aggression – right up there with simply ignoring the problem – is leaving the dispute open to the community at large! That is when groups are really torn apart. If the two parties cannot reach a resolution in private, they should find someone to privately judge the issue. Leaving it to the mob is only inviting mob politics and an arms race of smear tactics that has the potential to polarize everyone it touches.

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