Welcome to Called to Lead: An Orthodox Christian Perspective. Demitri Fardelos and Mary Scott co-host this podcast with the help and support of their collaborators: His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago, and the Strategic Planning Goal Team. This season discusses Orthodox Servant Leadership, diving into topics from understanding Christian Orthodox servant leadership to developing volunteer teams to ethical negotiation skills.
In this episode, Fr. Dustin Lyon joins Demitri and Mary to discuss dealing with difficult situations and conflict resolution. Fr. Dustin and Presvytera Nicki are currently at St. George in DeKalb, IL. Fr. Dustin is no stranger to difficult situations. He’s dealt with a church roof collapse, the selling and buying of church property, a major renovation, a church fire and restoration, and, on top of all this, a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Of course, each of these situations produced conflict, but Fr. Dustin discusses how he has navigated situations like these.
Conflict is a part of life—it’s something everyone grows up with. It starts during childhood, but even as adults, it can be difficult to not let anger get the better of a person. “I’m right and you’re wrong” will not resolve any conflict. Conflict is difficult when it happens between parishioners, and everyone wants to avoid hurt feelings or someone leaving the church due to conflict. This episode allows the listener an opportunity to better handle conflict and difficult situations. Developing these skills will help leaders in the parish, community, and workplace.
Fr. Dustin begins explaining conflict resolution in marriage. The Orthodox Church begins marriages off on the right foot with marriage counseling as couples begin the journey of their lives together. The epistle reading at the wedding ceremony is a perfect primer for how to handle conflict. Its message is that the wife helps carry the burden of her husband, and the husband sacrificially loves his wife—they both have to set their ego aside for the sake of the other. This expands beyond marriage to all conflicts: putting aside one’s ego and recognizing that the other person also has something valuable to say.
Fr. Dustin explains that, when approaching a difficult conversation, it is helpful to provide examples of how a person’s behavior—or whatever the problem is—is affecting the entire community. Then, those involved can come up with a plan of resolution together. Conflicts are always going to be uncomfortable. It is good to be firm but essential to not turn conflicts into a yelling match or an ego competition. Instead, approach conflicts with love.
When it comes to disagreements, it’s important to let the other person talk. When finished, the listener should repeat back what they heard in his/her own words, rather than repeating their words verbatim. Using “I” language is effective, coupling how the situation is making the speaker feel. It’s also a way for someone to take responsibility for his/her feelings, taking ownership of rather than cornering and throwing responsibility onto the other person.
Every difficult situation and conflict resolution is going to be unique, but the goal is to create a Christian atmosphere where everyone can learn to resolve differences lovingly.
Dealing with difficult situations or conflicts has a lot to do with the approach. When St. Paul said that wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives, he meant that both spouses should be willing to set aside their pride and egos; this is the approach that should be taken in all conflicts. (4:27)
One should approach conflict with the viewpoint that the other person might have something valuable to say and that there does not need to be a “winner.” (8:44)
During tough conversations that may result in conflict, it is important to be prepared with examples of the behavior and how it’s affecting the community. (10:08)
Approaching conflict out of “love of neighbor,” it is crucial to listen and helpful to repeat back what was heard, using “I” language. (15:24)
“The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago exists to receive and share unconditional love, mercy, healing, and peace, so that life has greater meaning and purpose.”
(Fr. Dustin, 0:00)
“Managing conflict in healthy ways is a skill, and it’s one that I believe all of us can improve on.”
(Fr. Dustin, 3:32)
“To love your spouse, in a Christian way, is to learn to love your neighbor, which, in this case, happens to be your spouse. Of course, this is a lifelong process, and we constantly need the intercession of Christ, His Mother, and the saints.”
(Fr. Dustin, 7:48)
“When you approach a conversation like this, you do want to prepare. So, for example, you want to be able to articulate what the problem is, but you also want to have the data, the specific examples of when their behavior or attitude, for example, was a problem. You also want to provide examples of how their behavior—or whatever the problem is—is affecting the entire community.”
(Fr. Dustin, 10:26)
“Let them talk, and when they’re finished, I’ve found it helps to repeat back to them what I heard. For example, I encourage you to try this in conversations as well. But the trick is to use your own words, rather than repeating their words verbatim: so, summarize what you heard. You may want to start by saying, ‘I hear what you’re saying is …’”
(Fr. Dustin, 14:52)
“Remember what we learned from St. Paul: we’re encouraged to love one another, and it’s an easy way to do that in conversation.”
(Fr. Dustin, 16:21)