Today's guest post is by Marc C. Whitt, AMPassador.
None of us seek it. None of us beg for it. But as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, conflict can and will occur to some degree whenever people express their differing viewpoints and opinions about a particular matter.
If left to fester, conflict will bubble to the surface of a volunteer organization only to blossom into "opinion camps" which can then lead to what I call "organizational cannibalism"—the gradual devouring and devastation of what once was a positive, healthy music boosters family.
How well you handle conflict resolution can either move your music boosters organization forward or create a Grand Canyon-size chasm.
The skirmish, battle or even worse— war—might be between two boosters or more or between the organization and the music director.
Conflict often arises whenever there are perceived threats against values, rules, social norms, organizational direction and/or leadership. Whenever conflict raises its ugly head, I have encouraged booster programs I have counseled to follow good old Barney Fife's admonition: "Nip it. Nip it. Nip it in the bud!"
If your boosters organization is in the midst of turbulent seas, these are my recommended steps to calm those rough waters:
1. Don't ignore conflict. As much as we may wish to run as fast as we can away from those impending storm clouds, we must face the issue head on by addressing it at the root of the problem. That may even mean you must be the first to "compromise"—which, unfortunately, is becoming a lost American art these days.
2. Acknowledge personality differences. Everyone is different and sees life in various ways. As hard as it might be—especially if you're a little hot under the collar—try your best to understand those holding opposing viewpoints. This doesn't necessarily mean you must sacrifice your opinion. However, taking time to consider the "other side's" position can help develop a greater sense of trust among booster members. After all, a healthy, vibrant organization must be built on the foundation of trust. That means we build on one another's strengths, while acknowledging our own weaknesses.
3. Keep it cool, dude. Threats, raised voices, snide remarks, sidebar comments, folded arms and even worse, swearing, are no ways to handle conflict. Allow cooler heads to prevail and be civil with one another. That also includes voicing opposition via social media. I've always followed this rule: write down what really angers you. Let it sit for at least eight hours. Then throw it away and write with a cooler, more reasonable head. You'll be glad you did!
4. A cup of coffee or food always works! In the South, we often settle our differences over good food, a cup of coffee or glass of sweet tea. Sitting down at the same table, both literally and figuratively, can bring folks together.
5. Lastly, booster officers must be leaders. Being elected as a booster officer takes incredible responsibility. Not only must you help with the fundraising and logistical needs of the music organization, but you have to be at times the cheerleader, meditator, and voice for the organization. Don't allow yourself to be the one initiating or feeding the conflict. If you were elected as a leader, then be the leader by extolling the virtues of character, integrity, and a desire for inclusiveness. Don't allow yourself to be sucked in by political camps that conflict often produces within organizations. Be positive and be the one who, along with the music director, can bring about harmony. After all, isn't harmony what music's all about?
Remember, the reason families become involved in their music boosters organization is so they can become connected with their child. Positive, visionary, well-planned, and inclusive booster organizations along with the music director can allow a middle or high school music program to soar.
So the next time conflict arises, be prepared. I assure you that excellent conflict resolution will lead toward a better understanding of the organization, improved self-awareness and greater organizational cohesion. And from there, you'll make beautiful music—together!
Marc C. Whitt is an AMPassador from Richmond, Kentucky. A former president of the Madison Central High School Band Boosters Inc., Marc was awarded the "2010 Kentucky Music Educators Association District 11 Friends of Music Award" for his support of music education. He and his wife, Jennifer, are the parents of three children who were and are in the band. They are currently serving their 9th year as band boosters.