Conflict within sangha (community) is inevitable, and can be valuable, offering us an opportunity to practice with our reactions in order to minimise harm and benefit others.
Where possible, Melbourne Zen Group sangha conflicts and disagreements should be resolved informally with all parties meeting directly with each other to air their grievance and discuss their own perception of the issue.
If, for some reason, informal conflict resolution is not possible, formal grievance and complaints processes can be initiated through the Committee.
Please see below for strategies that can help with informal conflict resolution, and for more detail about our group’s formal conflict and grievance resolution processes.
Informal Conflict Resolution
It’s important that each person involved in a conflict maintains an open mind during the process of conflict resolution, seeking to understand their own reactions and how they may be contributing to the suffering of others.
Concrete strategies that can help lead to successful conflict resolution include:
- State the actual. Don’t make general statements. Stick to the particulars of the situation, and the emotions experienced.
- Take responsibility for your own feelings, thinking and actions. For example, instead of saying, “You made me feel X”, you could say, “I felt X when you said/did Y”.
- Give everyone involved a chance to be fully heard. Take the time to listen to each other in order to understand the other person’s point of view, and to move towards reconciling differences.
- Restate briefly what the other person has said, to ensure that everyone understands correctly what was said. Allow each party to make appropriate clarifications or corrections.
- Acknowledge how you may have contributed to the conflict and apologise for your part in the conflict or misunderstanding. This can greatly help resolution and reconciliation.
Third Party Advice and Facilitation
In situations where conflict is particularly heated or painful it can be helpful to seek advice from other trusted sangha members. It can also be helpful to invite one or more neutral witnesses or facilitators to be present during attempts at reconciliation. Such third-party facilitation can help restore direct communication by providing a sense of calm and by ensuring that each person is given proper space to speak.
Third-party sangha members should guard against behaviours that undermine conflict resolution such as collusion, or becoming a go-between.
If required, practice facilitators or Committee members can help choose appropriate third-party sangha members to assist with informal conflict resolution.
Formal Grievance Process
The Melbourne Zen Group is an Incorporated Association in the Sate of Victoria. Conflicts between registered members of the Melbourne Zen Group that can’t be resolved informally may be dealt with formally in accordance with the grievance clauses of the Model Rules for an Incorporated Association, under the Victorian Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012.
In summary, the stages of the formal grievance process are—
- Notify the Committee of the dispute.
- Agree to, or request the appointment of a neutral mediator.
- Attempt in good faith to settle the dispute by mediation.
If formal mediation doesn’t resolve the dispute, the parties involved in the formal grievance process have the option to seek further redress in accordance with the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012.
All sangha members—both registered members of the Melbourne Zen Group and the wider public—may submit a formal complaint to the Committee about the conduct of a Melbourne Zen Group sangha member. In the interests of transparency, formal complaints to the Committee must be submitted in writing. The Committee is expected to investigate and deal with formal complaints in a timely manner, with compassion, honesty and transparency.
When a formal complaint is lodged, the Committee must notify any person complained of as soon as possible, and, once the matter is dealt with, promptly inform both the complainant, and the subject of the complaint, of the result, in writing.
If a Committee member has a conflict of interest with a formal complaint, they must recuse themselves from the Committee’s investigation and handling of that complaint.
The Committee may delegate part or all of a complaint investigation to individuals outside the Committee.
The grounds and processes for disciplinary action against registered members of the Melbourne Zen Group are detailed in the Melbourne Zen Group Constitution.
In situations where unresolved conflict is causing disruption within the wider sangha or threatening the wellbeing or safety of one or more sangha members, the Committee may, at its discretion, take appropriate steps to contain the conflict and protect the sangha, acting with compassion and fairness.