Marc Time
by Marc C. Whitt

BandParentsEver been in charge of a meeting that began with smiles and good interaction, and somehow spiraled to become filled with fireworks and sometimes personal accusations or innuendos? While conflict and arguments begin mounting you think to yourself, “Help! How do I get us back on track?”

If you’re the president of your music parents organization and this has happened to you, it’s not a fun place to be, is it?

Like many of us, I am sure you have had a similar experience like this. That’s because conflict in its various forms and stages naturally occurs among families, work environments, and yes, even music parent organizations.

Conflict within music parent organizations, as with any organization, often ignites whenever there are differing organizational values, goals, interests, bases of power and influence, and concerns.

For the president of the organization, handling conflict in a constructive manner is essential. In addition to providing oversight to your boosters’ fundraising, community relations, and music program logistics and advocacy, you must be the cool, steady person who can resolve whatever conflict arises by wisely moving the group forward while seeking to cultivate healthier relationships among your members—even those engaged in a sparring match.

In 2012, The History Channel produced and aired the three-part television series, “Hatfields & McCoys,” based on the legendary Hatfield–McCoy feud. What struck me as one of the series’ fascinating, and yet not so surprising, facts was that years after the feud had begun, the majority of the fighting Hatfields and McCoys could not remember what the feud was all about. But rather than halt the fighting, the families continued their shooting, fighting and swearing ways.

Having worked with nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years, I have found that often organizational conflicts are much like this. Unless a leader, such as a booster president or music director, brings healthy closure to the issue in question, the mustard seed-sized conflict can morph into a much larger, more debilitating matter that cripples a worthy organization. And like the Hatfields and McCoys, we eventually forget what the real issue was about.

If you are the president of a music parents organization, these are a few tips to consider that will help you and your organization keep on task and on course:

1. Recognize that conflict is natural. Whenever you have people who are passionate about any cause, conflict will naturally occur. Don’t be afraid when it does. As the elected or appointed leader, pull together the parties who are at odds with one another as you seek resolution.

2. Don’t allow the conflict to consume you and the organization. One of the most difficult aspects of being a leader is not allowing yourself to be sucked in by the issue at hand. A communication professor of mine once said, “There are three sides to every issue: yours, mine and the right one.” Stand above the fray. Demonstrate your finest, most skillful leadership skills by binding small or larger wounds within your organization as soon as possible. Never, ever allow conflicts to fester!

3. Define the conflict and manage it accordingly. In their book, Understanding Interpersonal Communication: Making Choices in Changing Times (Wadsworth, 2009), authors Richard West and Lynne Turner said: “Remember that just because you have conflict in your interpersonal relationships does not mean that those relationships are destined to fail.” West and Turner offer five strategies for conflict management: (1) Lighten Up and Reframe – keeping “cool-headed when others get “hot;” (2) Presume Good Will and Express Good Will – believe that you and those involved want to come to a constructive resolution. “Build rapport by focusing on the areas where you do agree…Keep it real, but mix in praise with your complaints;” (3) Ask Questions – make sure you truly understand the issue; (4) Listen – a conflict is “difficult to manage unless we spend time listening to the other person;” and (5) Practice Cultural Sensitivity – “Be mindful and tune into your own culture’s norms and assumptions first before evaluating others. Slow down your judgments of others; suspend your evaluations until you have had a chance to engage in an internal dialogue.”

4. Offer some give-and-take. Don’t be an inflexible leader. Even though some conflicts are not fully resolvable, most can be as smart, wise, and effective leaders strive for a win-win solution.

5. Make it a learning experience for your organization and for your children. As we acknowledge that conflict is simply a part of life, take the process and eventual resolution as an opportunity to strengthen your organization. Your music child—although not directly involved with booster conflicts—often will hear how the adults are handling such. Allow this to be a life lesson for them, too. Build up one another. Even though you may not be “blood kin,” you are “adopted kin.” You and your “adopted kin” share your child’s love and enjoyment for music and participation in band, choir or orchestra. You often serve and share meals, attend a multitude of booster meetings, and a host of other shared duties. Always come back to this foundation from which you survive as an organization.

Organizational drama and conflict are often joined. Drama is great only if it is kept on the performing stage.

As president of your music parents organization, it is up to you to keep your organization’s ship on course, even through the occasional rough waters you will encounter. Keep cool. Remain steady. Be an encourager and problem solver. When achieved, you will merit leader status worthy of the Music Parent Organization Hall of Fame!

If this blog post has been beneficial to you, while we are at the start of the school year, why not engage your entire parent organization by Joining AMP and finding a wealth of resources similar to this that will benefit your program!