What is your go-to response when it comes to conflict? Are you an avoider or more direct in your confrontations? Does it weigh on you or do you just push it deep down to a place where it doesn’t seem to matter anymore? Does conflict terrify you or excite you?
No matter how you may have answered those questions, the truth of the matter is that conflict is unavoidable. I am not saying that we should seek out conflict, but we must recognize that conflict is part of the tension of living in a post-fall world. When broken people share life together, there will be conflict. The question we must wrestle with is this: how do we handle conflict?
Before we go any further, I want to make a few–what I would say are obvious but often forgotten–statements about conflict:
- You can only handle your approach and response. You are not responsible for the other person, but you are responsible for how you engage and interact.
- Prayer and going to the throne of God before any conflict that you know is going to happen is paramount. Just as going to God every day is paramount. We often run to God when there is going to be a conflict, but our response should be to run to God regardless. We must ask Him to work in our lives and relationships in an ongoing way to help us mediate and handle circumstances in order to prevent unhealthy conflict.
- Consider what part you play in the conflict. Self-reflection is always beneficial, but even more so when it comes to conflict. It is important to think about what we are contributing, both helpful and detrimental, to a conflict. So pause, reflect, and prayerfully think about how your words, attitudes, and actions are helping to resolve or hindering the conflict.
So how do we handle conflict well? Here are a few ways that I have learned (often the hard way) on how we can handle conflict and move forward well.
Be honest and clear.
Often in conflicts we tend to speak in absolutes, minimize what is going on, and don’t often say what needs to be said. What we should be doing instead is sharing what is true and the way it is effecting us. We must be honest about how we feel and how things have been received. But we must also be clear and concise and not allow for absolutes or our emotions to drive us toward negative responses or engagements. Instead, speak honestly and clearly.
Handle your emotions.
If you are like me and can feel the passion and pressure manifest in your core in conversations and conflicts, then you know how easy it can be to not handle your emotions. But allowing your emotions rather than clarity and wisdom to drive your engagements with others can be problematic. It can lead you to be rash, critical, and at times hurtful. So instead look to address your emotions and be honest about them in conversation, but also be aware enough not allow your emotions to dictate all that you do and say.
Conflict can be incredibly humbling especially if it makes you aware of your own shortcomings or errors. So as you engage in conflict do so with a spirit of humility. Do not presume this to mean that you just need to take your licks and continue to do so. But do understand that being humble means approaching the conflict with a willingness to hear the other person, grow personally, and be willing to admit wrongs.
Always see the other party as someone created in the image of God.
Sometimes in conflict it is easy to see the other person(s) as the problem or even as our enemy. But that is not what a biblical approach to conflict should look like. Imagine for a moment what would have happened if Cain had seen Able as his brother created in God’s image rather than someone who showed him up and became an obstacle to remove. We would be reading a very different narrative in Genesis 4, and honestly our method for conflict resolution would have a much better example to follow. So instead of seeing someone as an obstacle, see them as a child of God made in His image and allow for that to help curate your approach to conflict resolution.
Realize that your resolution may not be the right one.
Have you ever entered a meeting convinced that your way was the right and only way to do something? I know I have. I come in with an idea and a belief that it is the best solution, and when it hasn’t been taken as such it is defeating and deflating. I believe that’s also how we approach conflict at times. We come in believing we have the right solution and when it doesn’t go our way we see it as a defeat. But the problem is that we are approaching these moments as a battle to win not a conversation to be walked through. That means we need to approach them with open hands understanding our resolution may not be the best or right right one, and that is okay. Instead be willing to accept another route and engage with the conflict holistically.
Watch your language.
This is key both within the conflict and outside of it. Words are extremely powerful and can either be helpful or harmful. How are you speaking to and about that person? We can be prone to gossip, both intentionally and unintentionally, therefore, we can severely harm relationships. But we can be even more prone to say hurtful things in the midst of the confrontation because our emotions get the better of us. Instead of allowing your language to be harmful, seek to edify, challenge, build up, and encourage one another. Doing so in all moments will actually help your heart be in the right space when you have those difficult conversations.
Mind your spheres.
This is something that I think many of us (myself included) struggle with. Living in community with others means that often times our relationships and engagements overlap. And because of that reality, we often share things with people outside of the appropriate spheres. Perhaps you have a conflict with your boss; it would be inappropriate for you to share with all your volunteers why he is a horrible boss because that will cause dissension and frustration within the church. Remember that your priority is unity within the body, so seek to handle conflict in a way that builds, rather than tears down that unity.