You likely view your faith community as a place where you are all working together toward the same goal. When differences of opinion arise in committee meetings or in other decision-making groups, however, the work can become more contentious than you expect it to be. Just as in your workplace, you may encounter people who communicate so much differently than you do that it can be hard to see them as team members rather than adversaries. In most situations, dealing with people you perceive to be difficult may just require a few tweaks in your own conversational style.
Assume Best Intentions
If people in your committee meeting are being difficult, they may not realize it. They may just feel passionate about their point of view, particularly if it concerns a topic that is close to your faith community's values. By assuming that they have good intentions, you may be able to view their behavior in a different light without letting it offend you.
Many people who come across as domineering often do so because they feel like that is the only way to get anyone to listen. One way to encourage them to let down their guard is simply to give them the support they are seeking:
- Confirm that you respect them and value their input
- Highlight points of agreement
- Ask questions to determine what they need to take the next step
Even when they're not meaning to cause stress, people with strong personalities often do so in group settings. You can choose not to escalate the tension on your end, though. Try to maintain a calm demeanor while making sure everyone has a chance to voice their opinions.
If their aggression is intentional, not responding in kind can actually be a power move. To refuse to let them get a rise out of you prevents them from proving that the unsavory behavior was mutual. It takes two to argue, so by declining their invitations to engage in explosive conflict, you ultimately have the moral advantage.
Focus on Action Items
While it is important to understand why your committee makes the decisions it does, most of the meeting time should be focused on the specific actions you will take. When decisions are based on interpretation of the group's values, however, it is easy to get sidetracked into philosophical discussions. These conversations can derail almost any agenda if they're allowed to get out of control.
The solution is not to keep values out of the meeting, of course. However, it's good to set a time limit. If you are tasked with sticking to the agenda and want to avoid a long, drawn-out meeting, state the limit for discussion up front. Start the conversation off by saying, "I know there are probably a lot of issues to consider, so let's go around the room and give everyone a minute to voice their concerns before we vote." This validates each person's input but also communicates that a decision is expected to happen before you adjourn.
Loop In Outside Support
No matter what strategies you try, they may prove ineffective against a formidable personality. This is a good time to keep in mind that you are not alone. You don't need to tattle to the pastor behind the person's back, but it may be helpful to invite a couple of church leaders to your next committee meeting. That way, they can observe all the dynamics at play and give informed counsel. Alternatively, the presence of some kind of authority figure may be all the motivation that more assertive members need to remember to think before they speak.
Most people you perceive as difficult are probably not being aggressive on purpose. With a little understanding and some firm boundaries, you may find them to be valuable contributors to your decision-making process.