Whether your goal is to enhance communication, build consensus on a specific topic, or resolve conflict involving individuals and/or groups, the Preferred Path steps offer a road map for achieving more satisfying, less costly, and more durable outcomes.

The steps can be applied unilaterally, with no cooperation from “the other side”. Or you can use this site with other individuals and groups as a common guide and point of reference.

The steps on the Preferred Path can be group into beginningmiddle, and last resort phases.

  • Steps 1 and 2 are for preparation, reviewing what you already know, planning to collect new information, and honoring civility as you get underway.
  • Steps 3 and 4 are the engagement steps: listening and speaking directly with another person or group, with the option of facilitation or mediation by mutually agreeable third party if that is needed.
  • Steps 5 and 6 are for decisions by higher authorities, and as back up, a range of other actions that may be taken if the matter is not resolved through the first five steps.

While you can “loop forward” at any time, experience suggests it’s best to follow the steps in order.]

Step 1 - Pray and Prepare

If you bring your concerns to God in prayer, will it make a difference in the outcome?

Scripture says Yes.

Step 1 on the Preferred Path reminds us to put our topics—everything from minor challenges to major disputes–before our creator at the very start (Philippians 4: 6-7).

As we pray, we open our minds and hearts to the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Knowing that self-interest and self-centeredness may well derail us, we ask God to help us think of others’ interests as well as our own (Philippians 2:4), and to bring a loving attitude and behavior to others, even our opponents and enemies. This “turning it over” to God in prayer is what gives us hope in otherwise hopeless situations.

Step 2 - Act in Love

This step reminds us to love others, including our enemies and opponents, even when we are anxious, afraid, or being treated badly. How do we do it?  By treating them like we would like to be treated. By thinking of their interests as well as our own (Philippians 2:2).

We might read I Corinthians 13, St. Paul’s classic words about the nature of love.  Our aim is to orient our hearts and minds for living out the commandment to love our neighbor even before we engage in any conversation with others.

Step 3 - Talk Collaboratively

Whether your goal is dialogue, consensus building, or conflict resolution, Step 3 provides the occasion to communicate thoughts, feelings, concerns, and in some cases, proposals and solutions to other parties.

If there is a conflict with another person, Step 3 honors Jesus’ instruction to speak directly with a person who we believe has sinned against us (Mathew 18:15).

Step 4 - Seek Mediation

If Step 3 collaborative talk fails to achieve resolution, adding a facilitator or mediator might help. But just how does this work? If direct talks have failed, how can a facilitator or mediator make a difference?

The answer from the front lines is two-fold. First, in confidential private meetings (sometimes called caucuses) parties often reveal key interests, facts and matters of the heart that they are reluctant to reveal to adversaries for fear of having the information used against them. Due to this feature alone, mediators often have a richer data set from which to help fashion a solution than the parties themselves.

Second, by offering a fair and civil process for exploration, the mediator can serve as a buffer, sometimes diffusing strong emotions, which can allow for better communication. At other times, the mediator may re-frame the situation to shed  light on a difficult problem, or offer solutions that address interests in new ways.

Bottom line: A mediator can help lift the level of discourse from avoidance and positional bargaining to one of collaborative problem solving, and in some cases, healing.

Step 5 - Refer to Higher Authority

When parties cannot or will not agree on what to do to resolve a conflict, each person has two other options:

  • Refer the matter to others to decide (Step 5); or,
  • Take unilateral action (one-sided, without consent or cooperation from the opponents or higher authorities) to deal with the situation (Step 6).

The hallmark of higher authority is that the parties give control of the decision to someone else. Sometimes this is to break a “tie” and other times because the authority is in the best position—based on knowledge, expertise and/or accountability—to render an equitable and just decision.

Jesus’ describes the higher authority step in Mathew 18:15-17 with the words “tell it to the church,” which is the higher authority among believers.

21st Century Christians may elect to take some matters to higher authorities in the church, and others to secular authorities such as the courts and governmental agencies, or any mutually agreeable third party.

Step 6 - Take Other Action

When previous attempts at resolution have failed, a party has the option of:

  • Unilateral action to force or encourage parties to move toward a solution; or
  • Personal action to live with the situation as it is (perhaps waiting to address the matter at a later date).

As with all steps on the Preferred Path, selection depends upon the discernment and judgment of each party.

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