Tips and Tools for Healthy Conflict Resolution
by Mary J. Yerkes
Do you find yourself at odds with a close friend? Is a co-worker trying to undermine your credibility with your boss? If so, you are not alone. Opportunities for conflict are everywhere—in your home, workplace, church, and community. Your response could make or break the relationship.
Pamela Conrad understands the difference a biblical response could make. Several years ago, she received a letter from her mother-in-law that contained “20 years of pent up anger.” She had just buried her 35-year-old brother who had committed suicide and was recovering from pneumonia. Unable to reach her mother-in-law by phone, Pamela sat down to write her a letter. “I prayed it would be constructive and that I could rise above the hurt and anger to address her concerns and fears,” explains Pam. The result? “Today we are friends,” says Pam. “This was a hard turn-the-other-cheek lesson for me, but it had a wonderful outcome.”
Author and Christian counselor Leslie Vernick works with people like Pamela to resolve conflict in their relationships. She instructs clients to pray, prepare, and practice. “Pray about it,” says Vernick. “Pray for wisdom, humility and the right words. Then prepare.” She suggests they write out what they want to say and practice saying it over and over again. “One of the things I tell people when they’re practicing is to rehearse in their heads ways things could go wrong,” she says. This way, when you hit a bump in the conversation, you’re prepared to steer the conversation back on course.
Tips for Biblical Conflict Resolution
Skill and practical tools for resolving conflict are important. But, according to Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker—A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict and president of Peacemaker® Ministries: “As important as practical skills are, the focus always has to be on motive. If our desire is to honor Christ, everything else will follow.”
Keeping that in mind, here some practical tips, gleaned from professional conciliators, that can help you resolve personal conflict:
- Define the problem and stick to the issue. Clearly define the issue and stay on topic during the discussion. Conflict deteriorates when the issue that started the conflict gets lost in angry words, past issues, or hurts tossed into the mix.
- Pursue purity of heart. “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5 NASB). Before approaching others regarding their faults and shortcomings, prayerfully face up to your own. Confess any way you might have contributed to the problem.
- Plan a time for the discussion. Plan a time to meet with the other person when you are both rested and likely to respond in love to the other person’s concerns. When you are tired, stressed, and distracted with other responsibilities, things rarely will go well.
- Affirm the Relationship. Affirm the relationship before clearly defining the problem. For example, “Our relationship is important to me. But when you don’t return my calls, I feel rejected and unimportant.” Avoid blaming the other person and saying, “You make me feel…” Instead, say, “When you do ‘A’, I feel ‘B’.”1By applying these practical tips and tools for resolving conflict to your relationships, you can turn obstacles into opportunities to demonstrate the love and power of the gospel. What’s more, you will know the deep, abiding joy that comes through obedience to God’s Word.“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
- Listen carefully. Once you share your feelings, listen to the other person’s perspective. Lean in; be present. “One of the most powerful communication techniques I know is to listen well,” points out Sande. Make sure your body language conveys that you are open to the other’s perspective. Reflect back to the individual what you believe you have heard. For example, “I heard you say that you feel expectations from me. Is that correct?”
- Forgive. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you. “Forgiveness is both an event and a process,” Sande says. He suggests you make forgiveness concrete with four promises:
- I promise I won’t bring this up and use it against you in the future.
- I promise I’m not going to dwell on it in my own heart and mind.
- I’m not going to talk to other people about it.
- I’m not going to let it stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
- Propose a solution. Remember the relationship is more important than the issue. When working toward a solution, consider Philippians 2:4-5: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Seek solutions that keep everyone’s best interests in mind.