Contending with Conflict
Have you ever been in a situation where no one can come to an agreement? Of course you have! Conflict is a normal part of all relationships.
Why does conflict exist? There are a lot of theories: personality type, generational preferences, and gender differences.
We can speculate on the “why’s” for days. But speculation doesn’t resolve conflicts. In fact, it may create resentment. People don’t like to be labeled or sterotyped, and they resent being lumped into a category.
The Bible lists only one reason for conflict. Here it is:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but you don’t get it?
– James 4:1-2 (NIV)
Here’s the Jeff Robinett paraphrase: “I want what I want…and you want what you want.” In other words…selfishness.
The best way to approach any conflict is to avoid casting blame. Simply start by admitting that you want what you want…and the other person wants what they want.
In a typical conflict people react in one of five ways:
My Way – You’ve heard the saying “my way or the highway?” People who say this must win at any cost and are prepared to fight.
No Way – Sometimes people choose to believe conflict doesn’t exist. They hope problems will be resolved over time without intervention.
Your Way – Do you know someone who always gives in? They are often taken advantage of by the “My Way” people.
Half Way – This is a popular reaction. One person gives a little, expecting the other to give a little, too. They expect every concession to be met with an equal concession on the other side.
Our Way – The true “win-win” reaction. Both sides look for common ground and work to attain mutual goals. Our way shows that both sides not only care about solving the problem, but they care about each other.
"Our Way" is what Paul had in mind when he wrote…
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
– Philippians 4:2 (NLT)
Is Our Way worth the work? Yes! It’s more rewarding to resolve a conflict than dissolve a relationship.
If handled effectively, conflict can be an opportunity for learning, growth and positive change. Reactions will initially set the tone, but after that you need to address conflict in a respectful and diplomatic manner. Otherwise, attempts to make things better can backfire and even lead to emotional, relational, and spiritual problems. Here are a few tips for successful resolution...
Talk to God about Your Conflict
When you’re upset, take a moment to regroup before unleashing a knee-jerk reaction you’ll probably regret later.
Personal thoughts and feelings can cause us to think the conflict is bigger than it is! Many times I’ve shared my concerns about a conflict with God…and he showed how I was making something out of nothing. When viewed in the light of God’s goodness we often discover those “big issues” are only minor irritations not worth our energy.
James wrote it well…
You quarrel and you fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.
– James 4:2 (NIV)
Be Understanding and Empathetic
The ability to demonstrate that you truly understand how another person feels is a powerful communication skill. It allows that person to feel like they were heard, which in turn diffuses the conflict. You do not have to agree with their perspective, but you can show you understand their feelings.
Saying things like, “I can understand why you’re upset,” can help people move past emotion into resolution.
Be happy with those who are happy. Be sad with those who are sad.
– Romans 12:15 (NLT)
Take Responsibility for Yourself
Owning your mistakes is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it demonstrates awareness and integrity. Both are helpful when resolving a conflict. Jesus said…
“Why then do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the log in your own eye. Take the log out of your own eye first and then you will be able to see and take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
– Matthew 7:33 (NIV)
Focus on What You can Control
You can control your own behavior and words, but you can’t control others…or the outcome. God gave the best example of this when he sent his Son to die for our sins. He has done everything he can do to resolve the conflict between us and him. Now…it’s in our hands.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 2:4-5 (NIV)
Through Jesus, God arranged the ultimate “our way” solution. I encourage you to accept that solution, and to look for “our way” any time you're dealing with conflicts in your life!