We all face conflict at some time in our lives. But it doesn’t always have to be negative; it doesn’t have to end up like something from Jersey Shore or Jerry Springer. In fact, if you use skills to deal with conflict there can be some really positive and satisfying outcomes.
What is conflict?
Conflict comes when people disagree on an issue or can’t get along well. This is just a part of life. It’s natural for people to disagree at times because we all have different interests, values, and ideals. Other causes of conflict can be that sometimes we don’t understand other people and what they really mean. We can mistake the other person’s true meaning or misunderstand what they say or do. Conflict happens in personal relationships, caregivers, friends, and even with family.
Confrontation or avoidance?
Different people deal with conflict differently. That means that conflict can get dangerous when people get aggressive or violent. Others will passively avoid confronting conflicts and will end up holding bad feelings for other people. But with greater understanding of each other’s viewpoints, conflict can also bring about peace when dealt with wisely.
Some people really don’t want to resolve conflict as much as they want to be right. But being right doesn’t always mean it will be the best outcome. You can cross a street at a pedestrian crossing but if a speeding car refuses to yield to you and you step in front of the car; you will be right, but it will not be the best outcome.
James 1:19-20 teaches, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Here we should observe that, whenever conflicts arise, (especially among Christians) each side should be willing to hear the other. People are often stiff in their own opinions because they are not willing to hear what others have to offer against them. So we should be “quick to listen” to truth on all sides and be “slow to speak” anything that should prevent this. And, when we do speak, there should be nothing of wrath; because “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Prov. 15:1 NLT)
James gives a very good reason in verse 20 for suppressing anger: “Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” It’s as if the apostle had said, “Whereas men often pretend zeal for God and his glory in their heat and passion, let them know that God does not need the passions of anyone.” God’s cause is better served by mildness and meekness than by wrath and fury. Solomon says, “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” (Eccl. 9:17) The worst thing we can bring into a conflict is anger. One may be concerned for what is just and right, but anger and wrath is a human thing, and the wrath of man stands opposed to the righteousness of God. Those who use anger and wrath in a conflict show that they are acquainted neither with God or His cause.
Some of the negative parts of ignoring conflict or badly managing conflict can be:
• having a lot of anger
• allowing the conflict to get worse
• separation or family breakdown
• feeling resentful
• stress and tension
• relationship problems
Some of the positive parts of dealing with conflict successfully can be:
• a sense of achievement
• stronger relationships
• you learn more about others and yourself
• good health
• learning from each other
• positive change
It all depends on how it’s handled. Even if we already have some very good skills in dealing with conflict, we can all learn more skills to deal with conflict that will bring more positive outcomes.
Effective ways to deal with conflict
The most effective way to deal with conflict is to negotiate with the other person or persons involved. Decide first if the conflict is worth dealing with. (Choose your battles) If it’s an important issue in your life or for a person close to you, then it should be dealt with calmly. But if it’s something minor, for example, a slight disagreement that will work itself out if you leave it alone, then perhaps that’s the way to go.
Not all conflicts will be resolved, but most can be handled well if you use a positive and respectful approach. It’s okay to tell someone how you feel. Say how you are feeling, but be careful not to tell the other person your feelings in a way that is blaming them. Doing so may cause them to get angry and you will lose the opportunity to discuss the issues calmly. So say how you feel without blaming them for how you feel. Separate the issues from the person or from the relationship. It’s very important to treat each other with respect while you’re discussing this.
When dealing with a conflict everyone should have an uninterrupted time to explain how they see the conflict. Show respect for each other by not interrupting and really listening to the other person. Listen with your ears, your eyes and your heart and ask for more detail if you don’t understand. But be sure to do this in a positive, none-attacking or accusing way.
• Really try to understand where the other person is coming from.
• Be open about what you might have done to cause the conflict or make it worse.
• Be honest with yourself and the other person about this.
To work out conflicts, important skills are needed:
• be respectful
• be understanding
• be assertive
Assertiveness is a skill of its own. What does assertive mean? It does not mean being aggressive. Being aggressive means you force your view on someone else. When you’re being assertive you state your view but do it in a calm and non-blaming manner.
This may seem like a lot of hard work, but it gets easier each time you practice. And remember, there are always good outcomes when you resolve a conflict. But when you don’t resolve a conflict the outcome will always be bad.