Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Fierce Week in Chicago: Day Three -- Feedback and Confrontation

Vicar Amy Cortright, Sr. Warden Lorraine Kee, Chapter member Anne Trolard and I ... along with Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd ... are at the Nicholas Center at St. James Cathedral in Chicago for a 2 1/2 day "Fierce Conversations" training, where we are exploring and learning in depth an extraordinary model of making our churches, organizations, and lives better one conversation at a time. Every day, I'm posting about what we're doing so you can travel along with us.

"When giving feedback with good intention, I am making the relationship with you more important than your approval. It takes courage to do it." - Jim Sorensen.

Today we tackled two types of conversations that are often some of the most difficult for us ... feedback conversations and confrontation conversations. They are hard because we are challenged to put ourselves out there for each other ... to let people know what we honestly think.

Anne Trolard talks about what we have to gain by having hard conversations
Feedback and confrontation for us as Christians are the methods by which we live out the call of Paul in Ephesians 4

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

We speak the truth in love for the body's growth in building itself up through feedback and, when necessary, confrontation. The healthiest churches are ones that have a clear sense of mission and vision along with excellent feedback loops. It is where we are growing at Christ Church Cathedral with the work we have done on our mission statement and also our Rules of Respect, which mandate direct communication with one another.

We discussed how this can be difficult for us ... about how we will often go to great lengths to avoid not just confrontation but even giving constructive feedback. These conversations are hard, and we need skill development to help us. So we spend much of the day in pairs practicing just this -- how to give and receive feedback and how to have a conversation when you need to confront someone about seriously problematic behavior.

In both feedback and confrontation conversations, specificity is crucial, and generalities are particularly unhelpful. It is naming the real issue and not pulling any punches, being honest about your perspective. But it is also about naming your own complicity (if any) in the situation and opening the door toward conversation that leads to healing.

Emotions are not to be feared. They are to be named, honored and often sat with in silence ... but they are not to be a substitute for the real data of the situation.

Fierce teaches there are four goals to all conversations:

*Interrogate reality (find the real data)
*Provoke learning
*Tackle tough challenges
*Enrich relationships

All of these are important -- and they are particularly important when you are dealing with conflict and confrontation. What you don't see in that list of conversational goals is "winning." The goal is to have the real conversation about the real challenge, to learn together and to grow together.

The goal of all these conversations is the heart of our mission statement -- "We seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ." A deeper relationship. Enriched relationship. That's Fierce.

We heard of a congregation that has a 20-minute feedback period after the sermon and where there is such a culture of feedback that every staff position has a feedback group. Everyone is supported and everyone is held accountable. It is no surprise that it is a thriving, mission-oriented congregation.

Getting better at feedback and confrontation truly is, in the words of Paul, growing up. It's learning not to shrink from saying the difficult thing in love but leaning into the challenge. We are hopeful that the tools we are learning this week can help us all grow into the full stature of Christ. 

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