How Partiality Affects Ministry
There’s been a post going around social media lately with a picture of an airplane that has specific areas on it with red dots. The picture is tied to an article about something called survivor partiality. The whole idea behind the image and article is referencing something that came about in World War II about how to prevent damage to the planes from gunfire.
The planes that survived attacks by enemy combatants with artillery seemed to come back with the same gunfire patterns on their planes. There were specific areas that consistently got hit on the planes coming back. The logic was that if the planes were reinforced in these areas, they would be safer in these areas of conflict. At the time, the logic made sense but later, a mathematician realized it was incorrect. The planes that survived have the patterns that everyone was trying to fix. No one was addressing what was happening to the planes that didn’t come back. The realization was made that the more vulnerable areas were the ones that did not have the patterns on the returning planes. The areas that needed to be reinforced were not the ones that were visibly seen.
The principles that are seen in this are applicable in a lot of different areas. It is easy to assume that if we fix the external visible problem, things will improve. The reality is there are always deeper issues that are not being seen or dealt with
There are a lot of different partialities that affect our ability to see things objectively and for what they truly are. As ministry leaders, we bring our own partialities into just about every situation that have the potential to complicate our perspectives and in turn how we lead people, how we observe reality, how we help others, and ultimately how we care.
There are three types of partialities that are important for every ministry leader to be aware of. Some of this is for leaders themselves. Some of this is so that we can navigate conversations and relationships in challenges that we have with others every day.
One – Self Winning / Others Losing
This perspective or partiality is a means of controlling the ownership of a success or a failure. The simplest way to understand this is when just about anything happens that you’ve had some connection to, if it goes well, you give yourself credit. If it goes poorly, you blame someone else. We’ve all seen people do this but we may not realize how easy it is for us in ministry to do this ourselves. While we all have the ability to fall on our sword and accept responsibility, we often don’t.
Two – Confirmation Bias
This happens when someone looks for information/results that prove their case. When you’re making decisions, it’s easy to talk to others who agree with you. It’s hard to talk to someone who thinks you’re mistaken and listen to their reasons. As convinced as we are in our opinions, we’re all afraid of being talked out of something and proven wrong. The desire to be right is strong, but let your desire for the right choice be made stronger.
Three – The Assumption of Why People Do What They Do
This is a perspective where someone draws conclusions about the motivations of another without the right data to support it. This can also manifest itself into preconceived judgments about a person. This can be avoided by simply asking someone to explain the reasoning behind their opinion or suggestion. When you assume the reasoning behind someone’s opinion, you tend to talk past people and also put people in a defensive position.
As a leader, we rarely have the opportunity to see all the different sides of any particular situation or any person for that matter. Our experiences tell us that if we observe behavior in an individual once, we will likely see that again in the future. And while there is a high likelihood that people will repeat the same things, it really is just a predictive assumption. It is important for us to remember that our partialities and perspectives are just that. We rarely have all the facts.
So, how do we guard ourselves against our partialities that dominate our ability to be objective about people and situations? Here are three things to try that might help:
One – Ask for Someone Else’s Perspective
Specifically, ask them what you’re missing. You have to be careful though because it’s possible that someone could just tell you what you want to hear which confirms your own opinion and doesn’t give you anything valuable. You want to know what you’re missing. You want to know what your blind spots are. That will help you gain an objective opinion of how you see things.
Two – Be Open to the Possibility that You Were Wrong
And if you are, own it. In working with and observing leaders for over two decades, I can tell you unequivocally that one of the greatest values of character we see in leaders that build good teams are healthy in their perspectives and lead effectively is the ability to admit that they are wrong. Nobody is right all the time and anyone who claims to be is being dishonest with themselves or others. So be open to the possibility that you might make mistakes along the way.
Three – Create a Culture that Shares Honesty in a Caring Way
You’ve probably heard the statement truth in love. It is rarely used properly. But when used well, it gives great power to relationships, effectiveness, integrity, and growth. Building a culture like this can give you as a leader a team that has a better understanding of your own perspective as well as the strengths in the perspectives of others.