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Face obstacles, conflict head-on to work together well, speaker says

Wednesday, February 08, 2017 - Updated: 7:21 am
By Alex Harrington Catholic News Service

SALT LAKE CITY — Communication is one of the requirements for collaboration, and an important aspect of communication is to be silent every once in a while and listen, a workshop presenter told lay ecclesial ministers and other Utah Catholics.

Trinitarian Brother Loughlan Sofield addressed the group Jan. 28 at the Benvegnu Center at St. Vincent De Paul Church in Salt Lake City.

Collaboration, he said, is based on one concept: the gifts that people have. Deacons and lay ecclesial ministers can use their gifts to become "animators of their entire community," he said.

He spoke of three steps to using gifts properly to facilitate collaboration: identifying gifts; hearing the call of God to release those gifts; and bringing the gifts together in a group to collaborate.

An author and consultant, Brother Loughlan has worked in more than 200 dioceses on five continents. He is the director of the Missionary Servant Center for Collaborative Ministry, the director of the Washington Archdiocesan Consultation and Counseling Center, and assistant director of the Center for Religion and Psychiatry in Washington.

He opened his presentation in Salt Lake City by recalling a time when a woman introducing him said that he was a very warm person. "Luckily, I had a dictionary with me at the time," he said. "And I found out that warm really means not so hot."

His audience burst out laughing. After the chuckles died down, he continued, "When I told her this, she said, 'No, no, that's not what I meant. Brother Sofield is a model speaker.' I looked that up, too, and a model means a lesser version than the real thing."

When he wasn't making his audience laugh with his frequent jokes, Brother Loughlan was pacing back and forth between the tables, gesturing emphatically with every new point he made. The topic of collaboration bound together his jokes and boundless energy.

Regarding the gifts people bring to collaboration, he said that "sometimes, gifts are so a part of us that we don't even look at them as gifts," but he added that everyone has important and unique gifts to bring to the table when collaborating.

He warned that one thing that will often get in the way of recognizing gifts is low self-esteem. "It is the major obstacle to collaboration," he said.

He gave an example of his brother, who had to have surgery because 90 percent of his arteries were blocked; the remaining 10 percent were just barely keeping him alive. Low self-esteem and not recognizing gifts means a group of people trying to collaborate will be working at that same 10 percent capacity, Brother Loughlan said.

To illustrate how communication is necessary for collaboration, along with time to be silent and listen, he took 15-minute breaks throughout the day, splitting the attendees into small groups, listening to their theories, feelings and experiences with collaboration.

Brother Loughlan also spoke about conflict and how inevitably groups will have to address that.

"Some people read the first few chapters in the Bible about the apostles and say, 'Look how great the early Christian community used to get along!' I tell them to keep reading," he said. "Conflict is inevitable in the church, but if you don't deal with it, it festers."

Just like conflict, being angry is not wrong, but anger can be an obstacle to collaboration if handled badly, he said.

According to Brother Loughlan, there are three ways to deal with anger: to store it up, to express it destructively or to express it constructively. The first two ways are unhealthy for both the individual and for collaboration, he said. A person who stores anger becomes "a pressure cooker, ready to blow their top at any moment."

Anger also should not be expressed destructively by dumping that anger onto someone else, he said.

Brother Loughlan said that it's important to remember that "it is our beliefs and our perceptions that create (anger). You can never blame another person for your anger. It was an inside job."

Unaddressed anger can lead to passive-aggressiveness, depression and abuse of others, he said, so it must be dealt with. "You can't collaborate if you hold onto your anger," he said.

The only cure for anger is forgiveness, Brother Loughlan said. "If I want to be a disciple of Jesus, if I want to be a follower of Jesus, I must heal and I must forgive."

The best way to collaborate is to face conflict and anger head on, he said, and most importantly, to pray for the strength to deal with them healthily.

Collaboration is incredibly important in any job, Brother Loughlan said, most of all for the job that Jesus gave Christians — to make disciples of all nations. "The world will know Jesus Christ as the son of God if we work together, as one," he said.

Harrington is on the staff of the Intermountain Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Salt Lake City.


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