11 Questions To Help You Distinguish A Pot-Stirrer From A Peacemaker

There are people who regularly find themselves in the middle of conflicts. Some come across as peacemakers but are actually pot-stirrers. Here are some ways to tell the difference.

Conflict resolution is a big part of a pastor’s job description. As it is for all leaders.

Whether it’s helping staff and volunteers connect better as a team, or working with a married couple to restore their relationship, we often find ourselves managing conflict.

In my 40-plus years of pastoral ministry I’ve noticed that there are other people who also regularly find themselves in the middle of conflicts. Some of them are peacemakers, and I’m always grateful for their help.

Others come across as peacemakers but are actually pot-stirrers. You’d think it would be easy to tell one from the other, but it’s often hard to tell the difference.

This is a problem because we want to be sure we’re working with people who are defusing the problem rather than stirring it up. But pot-stirrers and peacemakers have a lot of the same qualities:

  • Both are leaders
  • Both are often on the middle of conflict situations
  • Both are likely to make you aware of problems you didn’t know about
  • Both seem genuinely concerned about fixing the problem

The difference, of course, is that while peacemakers are genuinely helpful, pot-stirrers are experts at the art of deception.

So how can we tell the difference? Here are 11 aspects to take into consideration:

1. Honesty

Are they alerting you to a pre-existing problem, or are they creating a new one?

Peacemakers and pot-stirrers are both very good at telling you about a previously-unknown problem.

Peacemakers do so to bring the truth to light. As my long-time peacemaking associate pastor used to tell me “I don’t want you fighting a battle you don’t know you’re fighting.”

But pot-stirrers lie. They act like they’re helping to fix a problem while either creating it or making it worse – which happens to be the very definition of stirring the pot.

2. Participation

Do they actively participate in the hard work of reconciliation?

Pot-stirrers often let you know about an issue, then walk away. Peacemakers participate in the hard work of conflict resolution.

3. Attitude

Are they heartbroken or stimulated by the conflict?

Pot-stirrers always seem concerned by the conflict, but they’re also energized by it.

Peacemakers, on the other hand, often find themselves in the middle of conflict, but you can usually sense their genuine reluctance to do so.

Anyone who is over-eager to enter conflict is a pot-stirrer, not a peacemaker.

4. Problem-solving

Do they only bring problems, or do they bring possible resolutions?

I’ve never been a fan of the maxim “don’t bring me a problem if you don’t have a solution.” All that does is silence people and push problems underground. Problems need to be aired before they can be solved.

But peacemakers do tend to offer possible approaches to a solution. Anyone who always has the attitude of “now you know what’s up, so it’s yours to fix” is a pot-stirrer.

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5. Acceleration

When they bring you a problem, does it tend to get smaller or bigger over time?

The conflicts around pot-stirrers tend to increase over time. Why? Because, again, that’s what stirring the pot means.

Peacemakers do the opposite. Their presence calms a situation rather than accelerating it.

7. Severity

Do they bring you little problems, or do they solve those themselves?

Peacemakers don’t nitpick. They tend to solve smaller problems by themselves.

Pot-stirrers are obsessed with trivia.

8. Taking Credit

Do they need recognition for their work?

Peacemakers regularly get involved in conflict resolution without seeking any recognition for it.

Pot-stirrers are obsessed with getting credit for how much work they do, even if the results are questionable.

9. Secret-keeping

Can you trust them to know the difference between anonymous sources and gossip?

Pot-stirrers go to one of two extremes when it comes to naming people. Either they can’t wait to gossip about the people causing problems (Did you hear about..?) or they never get specific (“Everyone says…”).

Peacemakers never blame problems on a vague group (“they’re saying…”) but they also don’t drag people’s names or reputations through the mud.

Does it ever feel like gossip? If so, you’re dealing with a pot-stirrer.

10. Boundaries

Do they respect boundaries when you point them out?

Pot-stirrers love to be martyrs. Even when you help them draw healthy boundaries, they keep breaking them down.

Peacemakers may also have boundary issues initially, due to their desire to help people, but they tend to respond in healthier ways when you encourage them to draw boundaries.

11. Reputation

Are others warning you about them?

I’ve never met an actual peacemaker who’s been accused of being a busybody. Their reputation for calmness, maturity and kindness always precedes them.

Pot-stirrers, on the other hand, almost always have reliable detractors.

Which One Are You?

Pot-stirring comes in all forms. Include pastoral garb.

While no one can avoid being pulled in by the occasional pot-stirrer, we tend to attract people that are similar to ourselves.

Guard your heart. Seek peace. Avoid gossip.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

(Photo by Crazy Cake | Unsplash)


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