You can resolve “offences” with peace and confidence.

Q: Bullied for Over a Year (Submitted by Susan):

I have been bullied for over one year now. Rumors and lies follow me at church but I will not leave. I believe God put me there for a reason and despite everything, I love my church. I know who is behind the bullying and yes, it hurts. It is painful and leaves its own kind of scars, but I am strong. The bullying consists of sending out emails that are filthy…spoofing my address so that church members actually believe I did this. My friends are being targeted and I am being isolated. It is okay. I serve a God who sees and hears. I trust He will use this for good.

A: The Two Essential Rules for Resolving Conflicts

Susan, I’m really sorry to hear about this, and I appreciate you posting this here.

Good for you for putting your relationship with God—and your ability to stay and influence change for good—above the personal hurt you feel!

May I offer a couple of suggestions? These come from my life in the LDS church (Mormons) and also as a executive coach. The following two principles have a huge impact on our own sense of peace—and they are powerful for influencing others around us.

Rule 1) Carefully clarify before reaching ANY negative conclusion.

Look for ALL the possible explanations for why something is happening, then keep looking if your conclusion is negative. If it’s still negative, ask them to make sure you got it right.

In my experience, a negative conclusion (about what someone did or why they did it) is wrong 95% of the time because of the fundamental attribution error we all tend to make. We are too unimaginative about other people’s motives or the realities of a situation, but we usually give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. I teach this principle all the time and I STILL find myself making this mistake, especially when emotion is involved.

Hypocrisy or Something Else?

In 1999, I attended a regional conference in Nashville, TN with a non-LDS friend (“Dandy” Bandy) who was interested in the LDS Church. Elder Erying (an LDS Apostle) spoke. Afterwards I asked Dandy how he liked it. He said it was a good experience, but Elder Eyring’s actions during the closing prayer bothered him. “I don’t know what made me do it, but for some reason I opened my eyes during the prayer and saw him on the stand, shuffling his papers with his eyes open, like he wasn’t paying attention at all.” I assured Dandy that I knew Elder Eyring was a man of God from recent, personal, life-changing experience with him, I was 100% certain there was an excellent explanation, and I explained this principle. Neither of us could figure out a likely reason, however, and the conversation moved on. (Dandy joined the Church soon afterwards.)

A decade later I told that story to Steve Montrose, an LDS friend and business associate. As his business coach, I was helping him look at a thorny business problem involving someone else’s actions. Steve said, “I can’t think of a good reason for Elder Eyring to be doing that either. I’d sure like to know why it happened.” Steven wasn’t judging or concerned, he was just puzzled. I assured him that there was a good reason, Steve agreed, and we moved on. I may have offered a short prayer after that, asking for insight to understand, but I soon forgot about the conversation.

The Inspired Answer

A week later, I sat in an inspiring stake leadership meeting like the one I attended in 1999 with Dandy. During the closing prayer, while my mind was focused on the prayer, an impression suddenly flooded into my mind, giving me an answer (and counsel to pass on) about the problem Steve Montrose faced. I silently expressed appreciation for the insight and continued listening to the prayer. The Spirit whispered, “write the impression down.” I agreed to do it after the prayer, and I continued listening to the prayer with my eyes closed. “Write it down NOW!” insisted the Spirit.

“Ahhhhh,” I thought as I opened my eyes, shuffled through my papers to find my notebook, and recorded the impression during the prayer. I was experiencing the likely reason for Elder Eyring’s actions a decade before. Two answers had come in one experience.

Only now, as I write this, do I also realize that during that very conference, Elder Eyring had been teaching us the importance of recording our spiritual impressions and acting on them right away, the instant they come to us! It appears that Elder Eyring actually practices what he preaches, and the Lord is more concerned with us recording and acting on the whisperings of the still, small voice than He is concerned about closing our eyes and bowing our heads during every prayer.

“For it is the Spirit that giveth life and not the letter; yea, the letter killeth.” (From memory via Elder Packer, 1980 or 1981 Conference talk. Let me know if you find the reference.)

My Not-So-Important Theory about Your Bullying

P.S. The important part is above, focus on that. However, “lest we should offend them” (Matthew 17:27), here is my favorite possible explanation for the “bullying” you experienced:

  • A computer virus started it. The emails you describe exactly match the behavior of many viruses that infect computers nowadays. Your computer does not need to be infected. The spoofing usually takes place on someone else’s computer and uses their address list, so it looks like the filthy messages (advertising to a virus-infected site) came from you. This subtle approach makes it harder for people to find the infected computer and fix the problem, making further infections more likely. So make sure you carefully clarify before reaching a negative “bullying” conclusion!

Rule 2) Follow the inspired pattern of conflict resolution.

The Lord and his servants are so smart! Whether in church or in business, the only right way to resolve a problem like this is found in DC 42:88-93 (and less perfectly recorded in Matthew 18:15-17):

88 And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.

89 And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.

90 And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.

91 And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God.

92 If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her.

93 And thus shall ye conduct in all things.

Follow the Steps in Order

This is an important, powerful principle in business and in any organization:

  1. Talk to that person first in a non-confrontational way. Listen. “First seek to understand.” (Covey)
  2. Ask nicely for what you’d like, patiently.
  3. If you don’t get satisfaction, take it to your mutual leader (manager, bishop, etc.)
  4. The leader should ask the THREE of you to discuss it together, with a lot of listening.
  5. If you can’t get satisfaction there, escalate further up the chain, involving everyone involved so far.
  6. Keep the conversations confidential among the participants, on a need-to-know basis only.

Any Other Approach Will Do Damage

Examples of well-intentioned but very damaging approaches people sometimes try:

  1. Going to the leader first. This will waste a lot of time, it may prejudice the leader or bishop against them, because neither of you will have all the information you need to get a good resolution. If you try this, a wise leader/bishop will teach the principles in this section and send you back to discuss with the other party first, reassuring you that if you can’t get a good resolution, you should come back to the leader and the three of you will resolve it together. (Exception: In cases of abuse or danger to you or others, get an empowered authority figure involved first so everyone stays safe. However, that authority needs to do a lot of non-judgmental listening first, before offering correction.)
  2. The leader or bishop takes it to the other person for you. This will create bad feelings between everyone, including the other person and the leader! Why? This prevents two-way communication between you and the person who may have offended you. That communication is crucial for becoming “of one heart, and one mind,” which is essential for teamwork and a Zion people. This approach also takes incomplete, negative conclusions to the second person without allowing them to clarify, so the second person will feel unfairly judged (rightly so) by both the leader and the person who felt offended in the first place.
  3. The leader or bishop takes it to the other person confidentially, without disclosing who you are. This is the worst of all. In addition to all the problems of #2, the second person now feels like “anyone or everyone” in the organization could have a negative opinion of them, with no way to resolve it. This creates a hostile environment overall, so expect morale to plummet.

Don’t go there. Instead, carefully or prayerfully consider a good way to discuss the situation with them. Then ask for their perspective in a relaxed way. Honestly listen. Reconsider your assumptions. You’ll almost always be reconciled. If not, THEN go to the leader and ask for a 3-way to resolve it.

The 95% Rule

And remember that 95% of the time, it’s not going to be nearly as bad as you thought. Things are usually far more positive than we first imagine with limited information.

– Kevin Crenshaw


Handshake (Workshop Cologne ’06)” by Tobias WolterOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

3 thoughts on “Two Essential Rules for Resolving Conflicts”

  1. One more quick note – you don’t have to attend your home ward if it’s uncomfortable for you. You can attend any ward in your town. Or your state. If you find a ward where you feel comfortable and where no one knows what’s been going on, you can have your records transferred there. Hoping that you’ll find peace and resolution to this very awful situation.

  2. Tristi, thanks for weighing in. Actually, it’s important to check with your bishop if you need to attend elsewhere. In 1990 at least, membership transfers required authorization from both bishops and stake president(s) and even the Office of the First Presidency! I think that’s because:

    1. It lets leaders resolve issues they wouldn’t know about otherwise. (Principles are: accountability, stewardship, counseling with our councils, unity.)
    2. If you attend another unit, which ward would you invite your neighbor to attend? If it’s the one you’re attending, they’re now bonding with the wrong unit, and home teaching, etc. is suddenly thrown out of whack. We “win people to” what we “win them with.” (Principles are: gathering; which is designed to create a Christlike “Zion” people and establish eternal families in temples.)

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