Updated: Jan 21
Handling Conflict - A Key to Healthy Relationships
I asked myself,"Who should I be leading?," and then I boxed in five leadership domains on the framework below to answer the question.
Next I asked myself, "What are the most basic things I need to do in order to lead effectively in each one of these leadership domains?"
The second square in my framework represents the Relational Leadership Domain, or Leading Others, One-on-One.
To lead effectively in this domain, I decided these are my absolute
— Build Trust
— Handle Conflict Effectively, and
— Listen Well & Communicate Clearly
In Part 1, Building Trust, I stated that I believe building trust is the key to a healthy relationship. Next on my list of must-do's is Handling Conflict Effectively. Let's look at conflict.
WHAT IS CONFLICT? HOW MIGHT WE DEFINE IT?
- Disagreement between parties
- Discord of action
- Difference of opinion
Conflict is simply a natural occurrence in everyday life.
We are each wired differently, with a wide variety of gifts, strengths, and values. We tend to view life through the lens of our personal design, so the spectrum of our personal strengths plays a role. For example, to a person with a “harmony strength,” a mild disagreement is conflict. For someone with a high “command strength," tension is part of life. [i.e., when it gets as serious as the “Korean Conflict,” then it’s considered conflict!]
We all have to adapt our natural responses to conflict. For one person it’s learning to stay and speak instead of running away. For another, it’s validating how someone else feels, and taking it seriously enough to really listen.
Conflict is normal. It’s up to us to learn to manage it. We can actually build trust by learning to manage conflict well!
Conflict is often caused when someone disrespects something we highly value. When that happens, it triggers an emotional response in us. If we do not recognize what's happening and guard our hearts, it becomes difficult to separate the "offender" from the "offense" they have caused. We can begin to think of the offender as "an enemy." Finger-pointing and Accusation can follow. We do well to remember God tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that "...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." We are not to "wrestle with people!" We must continually remember who the real enemy is!
There is certainly a time and place to speak the Truth. Don't forget Ephesians 4:15 says, "Speak the Truth in love!" We must guard against using the Sword of the Spirit to slice and dice the people around us! And when our values are disrespected, we may be tempted to respond sarcastically or in anger. But attitude matters. Do we care more about "being right?" Or do we care about the person we are dialoguing with? Asking thoughtful questions to clarify rather than to "trip them up," listening well, and responding with grace may feel difficult sometimes, but it's what God calls us to do.
However you personally define conflict, if you manage it well, conflict can either take us to a place of greater trust, or to a place where trust is never regained.
Let me repeat that—Conflict can either take us to a place of greater trust, or to a place where trust is never regained.
Here is a tool I use with my coaching clients to help them understand conflict styles and how to use each style appropriately. There is an acceptable time to use each of the conflict styles. And depending on the circumstances, each of the styles could be a poor choice for that particular situation. Take a look at the chart.
Where do you usually find yourself in times of conflict?
I love peace, and I used to avoid conflict whenever possible! But when I studied team-building and the value of collaboration, I learned that I could brainstorm & work together with someone to create a better solution than either one of us could come up with on our own! I was fascinated by that, and began to collaborate whenever possible.
Unlike compromise, through which each side gives something up, collaboration is a process in which new ideas are expressed and considered. Even though discussions may be animated, the underlying attitude is one of unity with everyone thinking together instead of talking at each other. A totally new solution can be reached, one that is different and often much better than anyone’s first idea.
I love my whiteboard, and I use it often to capture everyone's thoughts and spark new and better ideas.
PEACE-MAKING RESPONSES [Bottom third of chart]
As a Christ-follower, I am called to be a peace-maker whenever possible.
"As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans:12:18
This makes it obvious that there are times when it is out of your control to live at peace with someone. We are only responsible for our own reactions and responses. We cannot control anyone else. Our directive is to make every effort to be a peace-maker, and then surrender the results to the Lord.
Notice the Extremes
At the bottom of the conflict chart are typical responses to conflict. Notice the two extremes on each end, and the peacemaking section in the middle.
On the far left: “Avoiders” avoid relationships, deny there is a conflict, run away, quit a job, change churches, etc. Consequences when taken to the extreme: When hope is gone some may see suicide as a way to end conflict.
On the far right: “Controllers” manipulate the relationship, intimidate, gossip and slander. Consequences when taken to the extreme: When anger and frustration are so grave some turn to murder as a solution to conflict.
In the middle: Peacemaking Responses (Bottom of Chart)
Peacemaking is a deliberate choice on our part, and can take the form of any of our three center conflict styles. Notice that the goal of each of them is effective peace-making.
We live in a time when all kinds of thoughts and options are flying through the airwaves—even between people in the church! Fellow Christ-followers, Jesus calls His Church to unity.
Please remember that unity is not "sameness." Rather, true unity is the choice to live and work together in spite of differences—Taking time to listen and respond graciously. We can always respectfully agree to disagree. [For examples of conflict in the church and how it was handled, read through Acts 15]
Are you finding that challenging in this season?
Check out my thoughts from last fall on unity in the church.
If you missed my thoughts on Building Trust, you can find it here.
My daughter-in-law, Carey, delivered a fabulous message on Conflict and with her permission I'm sharing it with you. Well-worth the time invested to watch it.