Conflict happens. There is no way around it. If you care about someone or work closely with someone, you spend more time with them. If you spend more time with them, you have more opportunity to annoy each other or miscommunicate. If you have more opportunity, conflict happens. So, the question is not whether or not you can always avoid conflict, but how to prevent relational casualties when conflict arises.
Here are a few suggestions to help us wade through the mire of conflict management:
1. Start with YOU.
Chances are, you are at least partially responsible for any conflict you’re in. Honestly identify your role. If you’re a follower of Christ, pray that your level of culpability will be revealed. Humble yourself to the point where you are prepared to repent and make the necessary changes to minimize the potential for conflict over the same issues in the future.
2. Expect the best.
If this is someone you know well and care for, there is a really good chance that what they said or did was not intended to do you harm. Sure, in anger, we say things that are intended to sting or offend. Yet, even in those times, it is usually raw emotion rather than a calculated effort to harm you.
A dog that is otherwise a loyal pet, will often snap at her owner if she has been injured. Her instinct of self-preservation tells her to protect at all cost, even lashing out at someone she normally “loves” (to whatever extent that applies to dogs).
We often act in the same way if we feel personally or emotionally threatened or hurt. In those cases, we need to show that person grace. Even criminals are given the benefit of a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. Surely those close to us expect at least that much consideration. Expecting the best takes us off of the offensive and allows us to reflect on what we know about the other person. (Philippians 4: 8)
3. Forgive ahead of time.
Don’t wait for the apology (which hopefully will come), but determine that the relationship is more important than this incident. This will put you on a good footing to fight for the relationship. Even if the other person is not ready to apologize, communicate your hurt honestly but determine to let the offense go.
Any time we harbor bitter feelings, we suffer as much as the person we’re upset with: lost sleep, anxiety, lack of focus on anything other than the offense. Harboring ill feelings are destructive on so many levels that it is not worth whatever “satisfaction” we get from holding a grudge. (Ephesians 4:32)
4. Talk it out!
The most natural thing for us to do when we are offended or hurt is to avoid the other person at all cost. We wait for them to come to us, which makes reconciliation impossible if there is a stand-off. Act like an adult, confront the fear, push aside the awkwardness and deal with the issue head-on. Remember, the relationship is worth it! Even if you know it’s going to be a lengthy and painful confrontation, the relationship is worth it. The longer you wait, the harder it gets and the more likely that thoughts, feelings and emotions that weren’t initially a part of the situation will be brought into our thinking which simply makes reconciliation more difficult.
The passing of time following a disagreement rarely, if ever, make the situation better. Yes, sometimes a “cooling off” period is helpful, but rarely should that take more than a few hours. Follow the biblical mandate to not let the sun go down on your anger! (Ephesians 4:26; Matthew 5:23-24)
Stronger Than Ever
Working through conflict is rarely easy, but when it’s done and reconciliation happens (which, sadly, doesn’t always happen), you will experience a stronger relationship with that person than before the conflict occurred. We often find an increased respect and trust in the individuals whose friendship has now been “tried by fire” and proven to be stronger than before. Yes, it’s hard work, but if it’s a relationship that was worth building in the first place, it is always worth the work it takes to sustain it!
Are there some other steps that you would take in resolving conflicts? Let me hear them in the comments section below.