12 ways to break an impasse in your group

What’s an Impasse?

 

An impasse can prevent your leaders from making an important decision in a timely way. Therefore being frozen – stuck in an impasse – can be detrimental to the very future of your organization.

In preparation for discerning the matter, presentations have been made outlining the situation and proposing a specific direction forward. Just when you think your organization is ready to decide the issue, the unfortunate occurs:  an impasse is reached. Another option has gathered support and the group is now split between the choices.  We call this situation an impasse.

An impasse is when there are two or more choices on the table and people are unable to choose one.  Yogi Bera once said when you come to a fork in the road:  take it.  This is disastrous advice!

Impasses can paralyze a group and prevent them from making decisions in a timely manner.  Sometimes this happens because two different options seem equally good.  An impasse may also occur because people have lobbied for support outside the meeting and people feel a sense of loyalty to key leaders and their ideas.  Miscommunication can also result in an impasse. When people are stuck and unable to embrace change, an impasse seems like standing still in a fork in the road.

Nevertheless, a decision is not going to be made unless you deal with the issues and feelings causing the impasse.

Basic Steps Forward

Here is a list of specific things that you can do to help your group move beyond an impasse to make a good decision.  Consider these steps the next time you find yourself in your organizational “fork in the road”:

  1. Break the key issue down into smaller parts. Flag the most difficult matters and reserve them for later.
  2. Ask the parties to share why a specific alternative is unacceptable to them.  Draw the conversation to the big picture – the goals and away from the detail – strategy / methods. Then, ask people what they like about an idea before them.
  3. Look for creative options that may arise. When people focus on a goal they can see many ways to achieve them. Creative ideas come from looking first at the main goal.
  4. Listen carefully for assumptions not based on fact and point them out.
  5. Once ideas and accurate information are out in the open be prepared to take a break. Ask the parties to use the break to think about the various alternatives presented.
  6. Reconvene and review the parties’ priorities and common interests. List them on newsprint for the group to refer to as they make their final decision.
  7. Recognising common ground really helps bring people together when they might otherwise see each other as opponents.
  8. Encourage the parties to recognize and acknowledge each other’s points of view.
  9. Ask the parties for their help to move forward. What would make it possible for them to make a decision? What are they willing to give up for the good of the entire community?  Look at the impact of various solutions on all involved.
  10. Ask the parties to indicate what would change or happen if they reached a solution.  This is an opportunity for people to share their feelings.  Make sure this is a safe experience. Encourage people to use “I” statements and be respectful.
  11. In serious stalemates, offer the parties mediation, as opposed to letting the conflict fester and grow.  Use a trained facilitator.  Help people to not take the matter personally.
  12. Choose a way forward.  Be sure to thank people for their hard work and diligence.  Let them know that they have modeled the very best witness to others in facing their differences.

What to do when you break an impasse?

Remember that there are people who are affected by the decision that did not make it. So make sure that you promptly, clearly and pastorally communicate the decision to the wider community. Be quick and try to keep ahead of the rumour mill!

Not everyone who was stuck in the impasse has had the benefit of the process that made it possible for others to move. Think about how it is possible to share that journey with others. This can make  it possible for them to take the emotional and intellectual steps through the impasse.

Celebrate. People have worked hard, respected their community and sought to be faithful. Give thanks.

Conclusion

An impasse does not have to divide your faith community!  With proper leadership and a clear process, it can be a situation that reminds your group of their values and help them reclaim them. Groups can emerge from an impasse stronger and in the future be better equiped to make good decisions in a timely manner.

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Julia Wallace

Author: Julia Wallace

Julia is a layperson in the United Methodist Church, USA who works in Mediation and Conflict Transformation. She is co-author of the book: "The Church Guide for Making Decisions Together."

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