5 pathways for addressing disagreements

November 4, 2013       The NonProfit Times      

Nonprofit boards, more than any other part of the organization, are rife with opportunities for disagreement. Whether it’s an argument regarding one of the candidates for CEO, new initiatives, or finances, it’s not an unusual site to see board member squabbling.

The question is, what is the best way to address these disagreements?

In their book, “The Best of Boards,” Marci Thomas and Kim Strom-Gottfried explained that while there are multiple possibilities when it comes to the arguments that exist within a board, the strategies to deal with them follow only a few paths.

The two authors laid out the five most common of them, though only one is appropriate. Can you guess which one?:

  • Concerns go unaddressed but are raised in private conversations, creating distrust and subterranean alliances. These coalitions and disingenuous communications affect group functioning in the short term and can create lasting schisms that affect team performance.
  • Difficult issues are raised but are belittled, papered over, or discussed at length with no apparent resolution. The spokesperson is eventually marginalized as a malcontent, idealist, stick-in-the-mud, bleeding heart, or partisan.
  • In an effort to maintain harmony, conflicts are avoided. Members focus on areas of consensus and avoid difficult decisions. There is a superficial feeling of comfort often to the detriment of the organization.
  • Conflicts are avoided, but then they erupt in new forms unrelated to the issues at hand. The group then focuses on the immediate issue and misses the chance to address the deeper, underlying conflict.
  • Difficult questions and topics are raised in the proper time and setting, issues are aired, members are heard, options are considered, and decisions are made in keeping with the board’s practices. (Yup, this one.)
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