Synodality and Conflict Transformation

The synodal journey of the People of God fundamentally involves the initiation and development of quality relationships. Relationship building is like the proverbial saying “getting under someone’s skin”. One of the consequences of such attachment is conflict. There’s no synodal journeying without conflicts. Due of our differences – different personalities, experiences, perspectives, opinions, ways of communicating, and intentions – conflicts naturally emerge. In fact, some participants at the diocesan phase of the synodal journey described this conflict as “uncomfortable and messy” while remarking that the journey was fruitful.

It is the courage to be vulnerable as well as the utilization of the necessary spiritual and human tools for navigating conflicts that make the synodal journey fruitful. In the book entitled Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, it is referred to as conflict transformation. Based on an interview with Dr. Michelle Buck, Brown offers some tips on conflict transformation.

First, it is essential to avoid the ‘agree to disagree’, ‘silent treatment’, or ‘withdrawal’ approaches for peace’s sake. This approach opens the door to making assumptions about others, deepens misunderstanding, and leads to further resentment. Difficult conversations need to be faced to learn more about the other party, which opens the door to mutual understanding and mutual respect.

Second, we aim to make explicit our underline intentions.  What is the conversation about? What do we want for our parish or family? Expressed intentions build mutual connections.

Third, we avoid the temptation to turn the conversation into a court case in which there is examination and cross examination. Shift the focus to the “now” and the “future.” In going forward, what do we want our relationship to be? Even if we disagree, what do we need to do to create this future?

Fourth, the conversation ought to be about conflict transformation and not conflict resolution. Conflict transformation is creatively navigating the conversational space marked by differences and disagreements towards creating something new by learning about each other.

Fifth, there is need to slow things down in a conflict by listening with the desire to learn more about the other person’s perspective. “Tell me more.”  “I don’t fully understand.” “Help me to understand why it is so important to you.”

If the synodal journey is about discerning, dialoguing, and decision-making together, then conflict transformation is an essential human tool for all participants.

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