Whether you have instances of conflict weekly, monthly, or just yearly it is good to have a set approach for how to deal with conflict. Truthfully, it has taken me years to come up with a system or approach that works for me. I find when I follow these steps the interaction with a person I am in conflict with I come out a healthier person and the conflict is reduced, if not dissipated completely. Here are my steps:
- Take time to think everything through - There is no greater friend or greater enemy than time. It never hurts, NEVER, to take an extra hour, day, or week to think through things BEFORE you confront someone. This is something that I have experienced first hand: reactionary confrontation is never healthy confrontation; whatever you feel like you need to say today can and should probably be said tomorrow. I should be clear - I am not suggesting you water down your problem, challenge, or complaint; what I am saying is that a delay in speaking will only help to clarify the situation.
- Understand what you are really upset about - People are complex animals. We often have misplaced anger (even rage) in a situation. Sometimes we are angry, but the anger is not from this situation, but another. Taking time to react allows us to sort through our emotions, prioritize our feelings, and understand what is at stake. An example of this might be what an employee perceives as constant correction by a superior (though it is a minor correction given in the context of a review). The employee overreacts to the correction and sees the employer as being overbearing and confrontational. In reality, the employee isn't upset about the review itself perhaps, but that he/she had no input in the review process: their voice had not been heard. the employee needs to take time, search their own feelings, and communicate what they are truly upset about; by doing so the employee makes the process constructive and they feel heard by the superior. No matter what the situation: friends, siblings, boss/employee, pastor/parishioner - know what you are truly upset about BEFORE you engage in conversation.
- Understand what you feel will rectify the situation - Every problem has a solution and every conflict has a resolution. The trick is to know what will resolve the conflict from your perspective. Let me put it another way: what does success look like in a confrontation with someone over a problem? Do you need an apology? Do you need to be heard? Whatever it is - know what will reconcile you to the other person so Kingdom work can continue.
- Remember that it is all Kingdom work - The reality is that no matter what the situation, Christians need to keep in mind that they are building and witnessing to the Kingdom of God with their attitudes and approach to conflict. Specifically in a ministry context (that is my context), everyone involved in a conflict needs to remember that the goal of any interact or work in a church is about witnessing to and building the Kingdom of God. To say it differently: it doesn't necessarily matter who is right and who is wrong. Success is not being right, it's about resolving the situation in a way that the Kingdom if furthered. To be clear, that doesn't mean everyone walks away from the table best friends. What it does mean is that everyone walks away from the table loving each other as Christ loved us, agreeing to move forward in a Godly way that glorifies the Kingdom. There might be a need to table a certain issue and meet again now that everyone has been heard. Further, there might be a need for a mediator or third party to come in and help all sides listen to each other. Churches should take whatever steps that need to be taken in order to facilitate a positive Kingdom-building result.
So there are the four points that I apply to every conflict I have. What other steps or methods do you have to resolve conflict - leave your comment below :).