Conflict is part of life. Whether it involves family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or someone on the street, not everyone sees things the same way. We all bring different experiences, attitudes, and educational levels to the table. To keep things from escalating into something worse, we have to be prepared to manage conflict when it arises. To do this, we might ask ourselves the following questions when things start to get heated.
- Are my actions glorifying God (1 Corinthians 10:32)? If we’re involved in a conflict, are we arguing for the right reasons? Or do we just want to prove ourselves or get our way? Did we have a bad experience earlier that day that has resulted in us venting our anger on someone else foolishly?
- Am I quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19)? Do we try to listen to what the other person has to say? Do we give them a fair hearing, or do we try to craft our next devastating comeback while they’re talking? As the old saying goes, “Taste your words before you spit them out.”
- Do I have a log in my eye (Matthew 7:3)? Have we stopped to consider that we might be in the wrong? Or that I struggle with something similar and am running the risk of looking like a hypocrite?
- Am I trying to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-25)? Conflict triggers an emotional response that can be explosive and harmful. God calls his people to be giving, charitable, gracious, and loving. Do we truly care about the other person, or are we just trying to win an argument? We must remember that words can cause wounds that take years to heal.
- Can I find some middle ground or an alternative solution (cf. Romans 12:18)? A person may have strong opinions based on emotion rather than evidence. If so, we may stand our ground out of pure pride because we think that to lose an argument means we must admit defeat. If we’re willing to take a step back and get a view of the bigger picture, we have to consider that there may be an opportunity to either compromise with each other or collaborate to find a shared solution—in short, to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Unfortunately, conflict is part of our world. Tempers flare, insults fly, and relationships disintegrate. It doesn’t have to be this way. Overcoming conflict is not a fight to the death where one person wins and the other loses. Conflict can create an opportunity to grow, share, and come to a better understanding of the truth. In that way, everyone wins.
Below is a comparison of healthy and unhealthy approaches to conflict:
|An Unhealthy View of Conflict||A Healthy View of Conflict|
|I either dread and conflict and avoid it or enjoy it too much and seek out opportunities to argue with others.||Conflict is a part of life that must be met head-on in the most Christ-like way possible.|
|I know that I’m right. I have no time to listen to other evidence. The other person is wrong, and it’s up to me to demonstrate this fact. I can’t force them to listen to me, but they will agree with me if they’re smart.||I know that I could be wrong, even if I feel strongly about my opinion. I try to respect the other person’s opinion as much as I would want them to respect mine.|
|When I argue, I can be explosive and angry, depending upon how quickly the other person is willing to accept my point of view. It’s not my fault if I hurt someone else’s feelings. They shouldn’t be so dumb.||When I argue, I am calm and keep my emotions in check. I realize that a heated argument accomplishes less than a cool-headed one. Remaining calm helps me to evaluate what the other person is saying and more accurately interpret their verbal and nonverbal communication.|
|I don’t like arguments. My strategy for managing conflict is to avoid it altogether. I become resentful and angry when someone disagrees with me, but I don’t take any steps to address it. I judge them in silence.||I understand that conflict can be uncomfortable, but it is often necessary to achieve agreement in the future. I have to navigate conflict properly because refusing to do so will only allow negative emotions to fester.|
|If other people don’t accept my point of view, I will punish them by rejecting or shaming them, or by telling other people that they are stupid and unreasonable.||If the other person doesn’t accept my point of view, I must be confident in my own beliefs but content in the fact that they disagree with me, not allowing this disagreement to color my opinion of their worth or prod me to gossip.|
|Conflict is an opportunity for me to prove my eminence or the superiority of my ideas and beliefs. I understand that anger, intimidation, and shame are tools I can use to win an argument in the absence of evidence.||Conflict is an opportunity to help everyone involved to come to a better understanding of the truth—myself included. Despite the lure of negative emotions, I refuse to give in to anger or use underhanded tactics or fallacious arguments to win.|
Clearly, an unhealthy approach will often (1) end in an impasse because the person is prideful, arrogant, and unwilling to accept that he or she may be wrong, or (2) never get resolved because the person avoids conflict at all costs. God’s design is for human beings to enjoy harmony (cf. John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 1 Peter 3:8). Whenever we find ourselves in conflict with another person, we must take Paul’s advice to the Colossians when he says, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:14).