I was reminded this week how necessary conflict is in our lives. It is especially necessary in our relationships. In my opinion, any relationship that does not involve conflict is a not a healthy relationship. If our friendships, marriages, or ministry teams don't have conflict, I think we should take a hard look at the actual quality of that particular relationship.
As one author states, "We know from our experience that it is easier to develop trust in another person or in a group if we believe that we can disagree, and we will not be abandoned or hurt for our differences. It is difficult to trust those who deny us the right to be ourselves."
Another author says, “What you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”
Therefore, here are 7 ways to manage conflict:
1. Sit in the Conflict
Every fiber in my bones wants to clam up or run away when conflict arises. However, what if we did not run away from conflict but embraced it instead? Like a great steak before getting placed on a grill, what if we let ourselves marinate in the conflict? What if we allowed ourselves to experience all the emotions and possible awkwardness that conflict might bring up within ourselves? Which leads to the next point!
2. Be Honest
Something my wife, Ashley, and I say to each other is, "Honesty is always friendliest." And it really is! Honesty is the best policy. If you want intimacy in your relationships, honesty has been the #1 vehicle for that intimacy to develop in my marriage and other friendships.
Matthew tells us, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault, between you and him alone. If they listen to you, you have gained your brother or sister."
This passage talks specifically about sin but I would encourage not stopping there, and going ahead and telling your brother or sister when you're scared, angry, or hurt. The result could lead to even greater intimacy in the relationship.
3. Be Gentle
In Proverbs, Solomon says, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
My grandmother, Martha Wham, recited this verse to me. Even though she has passed away, she still remains the sweetest woman I've ever known. Her gentleness wasn’t a source of weakness; it actually had the opposite effect. Her godly gentleness caused others to lean in and listen more intently to what came from her mouth. She didn't raise her voice. She didn't scold. She didn't get defensive. And people did what she said.
4. Look in the Mirror
Matthew also gives a warning when he writes, "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
The biggest lesson I have learned when encountering conflict is to avoid pointing the finger, and instead reflect.
Since conflict originates on the inside, we have to be willing to share how it's affecting us. Let conflict be something that The Lord uses to shape our character rather than winning a battle. Let's remember Max Lucado's words when he says, "Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional!"
If we can't learn to listen, conflict will never (and I mean never) end as it should.
Solomon tells, "If one gives an answer before he hears the other person, it is his folly and shame." James encourages us to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."
6. Forgive and Ask for Forgiveness
In the case of conflict, it’s common that both parties have a responsibility to offer forgiveness. Literally, I say "I'm sorry," over something every day. It is a humbling discipline, but a necessary requirement for healthy conflict. I love what one author says, "An apology is the superglue of life. It can repair just about anything." I can testify to this firsthand.
Lastly, love reigns over all.
Matthew tells his Jewish Christian readers "Leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
Since we didn't live in that culture, we can't fully understand what a massive command this was to a person that used to be engulfed in Judaism. In this age, a sacrifice represented a relationship and commitment to God. However, when Jesus came to earth, he changed the game. As one pastor said, "Jesus changed the importance from animal sacrifices to love sacrifices." Our quality of relationship with God is no longer about how many Bible verses we can recite or if we know all the words to the latest Chris Tomlin song. Our devotion to God is now authenticated by our love for the others around us.
And I believe that if we are to truly love those around us, we have to learn to embrace conflict.