Sep 232013 2 Responses

Conflict Lessons from a Wedding Gone Wrong

It looked like a beautiful outdoor wedding. The crowd was assembled, the couple appeared excited, the ceremony was underway when suddenly the priest seemingly lost his mind.

Check out the video. (If you are reading via email, Click Here to watch the video.)


In a very public way, I believe this priest teaches us a few things about leadership and conflict management. Of course those lessons come in the form of a negative example, but sometimes those are the best examples.

It’s important to note, I come from a different religious background than this priest. I do not view a wedding as a solemn assembly but as a celebration before God and friends. While I take the ceremony seriously, I like to laugh and enjoy the process. I also give photographers tremendous freedom in a ceremony. I don’t mind them on stage, in the aisle, or anywhere else the bride and groom prefer them to be.

Despite our differences, there are a few lessons to learn from this video:

1. Most conflict is a by-product of poor communication. The problem could have been prevented with a simple pre-ceremony discussion. Before every wedding, I speak with either the wedding coordinator or the photographer regarding my desires for the ceremony. I’d like to think I’m easy to work with, but even if I’m not, my expectations are clear. If a photographer violates our agreement, that is one thing, but it’s clear in the video no conversation ever took place. The lack of communication resulted in conflict.

2. Conflict should rarely be handled in public. Sometimes there isn’t an option, but every possibility should be considered of how to handle conflict in a private way. In this scenario the priest could have quietly turned and asked the photographers to go to a different spot or he could have asked the congregation to pray and before he started the prayer he could have requested the photographers move. Whatever way possible, he should have found a way to communicate his thoughts without making everyone uncomfortable.

3. When handled poorly, conflict goes viral. The video serves as a metaphor for all conflict—handle it poorly and everyone will know about it. When conflict is handled well, no one notices; when it is handled poorly, everyone finds out. A college professor used to always tell us, “You will only lose your temper in public once.” His point was that every pastor does it, but when it happens they learn their lesson quickly. Nothing destroys leadership credibility like handling conflict poorly. Because of this, leaders should walk with great care when the situation becomes tense. Conflict is a minefield which can do more damage than good. While we shouldn’t avoid conflict, we should be very aware of its danger as we deal with it.

It’s easy to look at this video and second-guess the priest. I don’t know everything that was going on that day. Yet, it seems to me that the situation could have been handled in a far better way. With one conversation it could have been prevented. When one brief prayer and a quiet request for the photographers to move, it could have been handled. With a little tact, the wedding could have been remembered for the vows instead of the rebuke.

Notice the sad irony of this video—the priest was worried the photographers were distracting people from God, yet the lasting memory of this wedding is not God or the photographers, it is of the priest who handled the conflict poorly.

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