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Dealing With Dissenters:
When To Stand Up On Difficult Issues

Dr. John Maxwell

Number 50

Moderator's Note: This article is from Injoy's e-mail resource for leaders entitled, "Leadership Wired." It has been included in the Ministry Health Homepage simply as an example of this excellent resource and to encourage those interested to subscribe to this resource. As per Injoy's encouragement to freely share this article with friends and others in the ministry, I share this article with you. To subscribe to this excellent free monthly e-mail publication, go to the Injoy homepage at

Guts and grace--that's what we Christian leaders need as we face conflict. We must have the guts to take a stand on important issues and the grace to handle them correctly.

The real questions for most of us when handling difficult issues are: (1) when to take a stand and (2) how to handle dissenters gracefully. We want to act with integrity, but we don't want to be arrogant or abuse our power. We want to share our insights, but we don't want to damage the relationships we've developed.

The bottom line is that we want to take a stand and strengthen unity at the same time. How can a leader know when to stand up and how to do it with grace and finesse? No method is fool-proof, but here are a few guidelines that can help you.


The most common cause of confrontational blunders is lack of understanding concerning the issue. Before you tackle any issue, be sure you have all the facts. Clarify vague areas, and get the other person's side of the story. If your inclination is to confront people while angry, don't do it. That almost always causes damage and makes the issue harder to resolve.


When you face an organization-wide conflict, you will have to determine who has the greatest influence in the organization--not the highest position or greatest title. If you have the most influence, then be careful. The more influence you have, the more selective you should be about using it. Always ask yourself, "Who will this affect, both positively and negatively?" You don't want to abuse your authority or monopolize power in your organization.

Sometimes the person in a leadership position is not the greatest influencer. That can be a problem because the person with the most influence wins--whether he's right or wrong. If you find yourself in that situation, ask yourself these questions before confronting a dissenter whose influence is greater than yours:


Once you've determined that it's time to make a stand, you need to do it with grace. Start by assuming that any dissenter's motives are good. This fosters a climate of love and understanding with the other person.

Likewise, show that you value the dissenter and his or her position. When it comes time to confront, express your appreciation for the person, explain that you understand his or her point of view, express how difficult it was for you to make your decision, and then reaffirm his or her value.

It's really important that you speak from your heart to the other people's hearts. Be sensitive to their feelings. When you're done, you may even be able to ask for and receive their support in explaining your decision to others.


Once you're done, move on. Never bring up the conflict again unless it reoccurs or you can use it to affirm positive change and growth. People will respect you for that.

Here's one last important guideline for confrontation: Before you stand up and speak on an issue, you first have to live it yourself. As Norman Vincent Peale said, "Nothing is more confusing than people who give good advice but set bad examples." If your example is good and your credibility is intact, you can approach difficult issues successfully.

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:02:08 PM