Peacemaking in the Church and Beyond - Lesson 16

The Informal Communication Network and Mediation

The Informal Communication Network and Mediation

Rick Sessoms
Peacemaking in the Church and Beyond
Lesson 16
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The Informal Communication Network and Mediation

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How conflict and leadership intersect.

Dr. Rick Sessoms
Peacemaking in the Church and Beyond
The Informal Communication Network and Mediation
Lesson Transcript

[00:00:01] We're still talking about peacemaking tools. One of the key areas to make you aware of when we're dealing with our people as leaders is what? As some have referred to as the informal communication network. More popularly known as the Grapevine. The grapevine originated in the Civil War in the United States when the, um, when soldiers were trying to communicate to people across the valley. And so they would string this very. Informal, simple, simple wire with cans on either side. And they could actually communicate with each other across distances. And that's where the grapevine concept originally originated. It's an informal communication network. Typically, leaders see the grapevine as an enemy. And in effect, we view the grapevine and often talk about the grapevine synonymously with gossip. And we'll even talk about it as sinful within the church. The reality is there's some issues about the grapevine or the informal communication network to put it in a more positive light that are realities that when we're dealing with a collective and when it comes to potential conflict situation, there's some things to keep in mind. The way we would define an informal communication network. Is a pattern of informal communication that operates within complex organizations. The church is typically a complex organization. Here's some here's some characteristics of it. The informal communication network is fast. It tends to be faster than formal communication. In other words, people already know what the formal messages and communications is going to be long before it's ever published. That's typically particularly if it's important and important to them. Secondly, it's usually accurate. About 80% of the time. But it's that other 20% of the time that can be very destructive unless managed well. Thirdly, it is unstoppable. Try as you may, in complex organizations, the informal communication network is here to stay.

[00:02:41] It's not going anywhere. And so how are we going to deal with it? We can preach against it. We can talk about it. We can try to condemn it, but it's not going away. There is much info there. Tip typically is more info that flows through the informal communication network than the formal one. And you all have experienced that, I'm sure. And then finally, it travels by cluster. Now, what do we mean by that? Traveling by cluster means that it doesn't move in a linear line. In other words, it it doesn't. We tend to think of communication like this. I communicate with Tim, and then Tim communicates with Cathy and Cathy communicates with Rachel. And so it goes. That's not the way informal communications function. Informal communications generally have what we refer to as Centrals. And peripherals. Centrals are those people that are most likely to pass on an information to a number of people whenever they receive it. A friend of mine and I were assigned to do a communications audit with the Tennessee Valley Authority number of years ago, and our job was to go in and do a do a communication audit in which we tracked how communication informally travels within the organization. And through that, we discovered that the Centrals were people that weren't necessarily didn't necessarily have high positions, but they may have been the photocopy person. Or they could have been a secretary or they could have been the janitor. It it is not necessarily related to position, but these people will tend to be energized by information. And then we'll pass it along to others that. And usually a number of others. And then as they pass that on to a number of others, they may pass that on to some Centrals and some peripherals.

[00:04:56] Peripherals, on the other hand, it generally stops with them. It it doesn't go any further. It just that's it. So those are some realities about the informal communication network. And what we began to train people to understand is how do we instead of resisting this informal communication network, how do we begin to manage it? And how would you guess that we began to manage it? Exactly. You feed the Centrals the right information. Because they're going to pass it along. So once you've identified who those Centrals are and probably in your church, you can think of who some of those Centrals are already. If we pass the right information to them, there's a high likelihood that it's going to spread. And and so it's it's very important for leaders, particularly this information age, when if there's a lack of information, people are going to fill in that vacuum. That's a reality. And so to avoid the potential conflict situations, it's important to identify the Centrals and feed them the necessary information so that sometimes whether or not they're even aware of it, whether or not they're aware that it's the is the pertinent information. But those are clues that we've found in some of our our work that is very, very helpful. There's a relationship between those leaders that. Communicate everything they can. And people are confident that they are communicating everything they can. And the difference between that and leaders who hold back really unnecessarily. And if we develop a a credibility among our people that they trust that we are going to communicate with them everything that we are able to communicate with them. I believe that that's what breaks that. That's what solves the issue. It's not about. It's not about violating trust.

[00:07:13] It's not about of course, you know, there are legal issues and all this. But I think I shared with you a number of weeks ago about the the the the pastor that stood up and said next question when he was asked in a public forum about the former youth pastor, What I didn't tell you is that he had a reputation in that church of withholding information. And so that didn't go down well now. And conversely, if he had a reputation and had the credibility that he typically shared everything that he could. And sometimes it's as simple as saying, look. We want to be as open with you as possible. But the reality is there are some things in this situation we simply cannot share. But if we if we take it as far as we are able and create that kind of credibility with people, I think we're in a much better place. Well, I hope that's helpful. It's something that I've watched for years and organizations and we leaders despise the the grapevine, particularly if we feel like it's a threat to us. But it's time that would be in managing rather than resisting. Just a word about mediation. Just a couple of practical comments. First of all, guard against the uneven table when you're when you're trying to mediate a conflict. In other words, when you're the person that's liaising the conversation that you're trying to mediate two people that are in conflict. I was requested a number of years ago to go into a conflict resolution with a mediator. But it was very clear the table was not even and the outcome therefore was determined before we ever walked into the room. What are the things that create an uneven table? I'm sure that you can think of them.

[00:09:13] What are those things? What are some things that create an uneven table when it comes to conflict? Numbers. Okay. More against less. Yes. Good. What else? Biased mediator. Biased mediator, Absolutely. Whose turf is my office or your office or whatever. Good. Absolutely. Yeah. If the if the pastor has a conflict with the deacon and that's a that's an uneven table. That's right. More information is absolutely. I mean, there are some obvious ones like expertise. The ability to articulate oneself, to think more quickly than the other person. Charisma. Experience perceived spiritual spirituality. There's all kinds of things in the church, the seniority, how long I've been around. It just goes on and on and on. All of these things create an uneven table. And we cannot we cannot destroy the uneven table. But it is critical in a situation to acknowledge first to acknowledge that on an even table, to acknowledge that it exists is the first critical step. And then to make steps to accommodate it where you're able. Now, just one other thought. Usually those on the low end of the table. Feel the unevenness much more acutely than the people on the higher end of the table. In fact, people on the higher end of the table will tend to ignore it and not even know it's there. But the people in the lower end feel it with all of its weight and power. So accommodate, acknowledging, accommodate. Simple. If there is sin involved when you're mediating. Regret doesn't often lead to reconciliation, but repentance does. Um, and so, um, there are some indicators. Um, I'm, I just mentioned these indicators. First of whether it's just regret or whether it's true repentance. Number one, is the person more concerned about the pain of others or his own, his or her own reputation? Is the person more concerned about confessing the sin or about excuses that led to this sin? When confronted, does the person receive or resist? Let me just make a statement before I go on to this to this year.

[00:12:30] And and in what about church discipline? I just want to say a real quick word about this, because I'm sure that you guys have talked about this in the past. It's a huge discussion. It's incredibly difficult and complex. It goes all the way back to this to the 15th century, and it has lost its power within the church today, even though it's still important. There's problems related to lawsuits. There's problems related to church hopping with all the the churches that exist within our society. If we discipline a person here, they can go down the street in another church. I believe one of the one of those possible solutions to this is for multiple churches in a given community. They need to craft an approach to church discipline that is common to all and to be in communication with one another, particularly those that are committed to biblical principles. Um, and, and one practical step then within one's own church is to make expectations clear in your membership covenants so that that is, it's clear what, what those covenants entail and uh, and what we expect of people and there are samples of these kinds of covenants available if you're interested, that's can certainly provide those for you if negotiation is needed from the relationships, um, where sin is not obvious. Again, from the relationships understanding interest, search for creative solutions and evaluate options. We've talked about that before.


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