I’ve been thinking about conflict.
Honestly, when I hear the word “conflict” something in my gut tenses up and I have a sense of dread. Depending on the actual context of the conflict I might feel a lump in my throat or my armpits get sweaty with a physiological reaction. I have sobbed ugly tears over conflict and struggled with feelings of rejection, insecurity, and righteous indignation.
Other times I hear “spirited disagreement” and I am transported to memories of times when I have pleasurably matched wits with worthy opponents over a topic and we have walked away at the end of the conversation with the ability to take humorous stabs at one another in the future. Since I often joke that “sarcasm is one of my love languages,” the ability to tease others is one that I value highly because it fills in the gaps of laughter in my relationships.
What’s the difference between these two types of conflicts?
It boils down to intent and the way that the different parties approach the conflict mediation table.
When I was getting my master’s degree in higher education administration, one of my educational opportunities was with the student judicial office. Working with that program, as well as the judicial systems in various universities, helped me to understand a few things about conflict resolution:
- You all have to be playing off of the same rule book. This might apply to the actual black and white “rules” of the organization, or it might be making sure that the players at the table have the same philosophical values. (It’s really hard to tell a student that they shouldn’t smoke pot when they’ve been watching their parents get high all throughout their life – even though the rules state you can’t smoke in the university residence hall!)
- You all have to be willing to compromise. Compromise is the key that takes a situation from stubborn standstill to consensus. If only one person does the compromising the situation moves into a doormat/steamroller adventure and neither of those are healthy for either individual. But if both people come to the table with a willingness to change perspective, you have hope.
- You have to actually listen well. Let me give you a hint – if someone is on a conflict mediation call and realizes that the other person has been sending out emails during the conversation… that’s not a sign they’re actually at the table to try to work things out. Listening is a skill, and it’s one we’re generally pretty poor as utilizing! Listening should be taxing on our physical resources as we hear without trying to formulate our next defense, as we lean in to the conversation and sit with stillness to open and understand. Leaving a conflict mediation call should feel like we’ve just completed a workout because our listening skill has been activated. Just saying, “I hear you,” is not enough.
- You have to be persistent. Very few conflicts actually finish after one encounter. Maintaining a relationship with someone after the conflict takes work and repeated intentional interactions.
Why bother with conflict resolution?
Sometimes conflict mediation won’t work out. So why do we even try when it would be easier to walk away? Why not just block everyone involved off of your Facebook friends list, avoid the grocery store where you used to run into each other, grimace a little when their name comes up…. ? Won’t that create peace?
Nope. Isolation doesn’t create peace, it just creates silence. Walking through conflict is good for us, too, because it allows us to give God an amazing amount of glory for bringing relationships into alignment. God’s in the business of His glory, so why not play into that??
There are certain pieces of our Americanized Human Experience that are extremely sanitized right now. I could spend a lot of time talking about the fear we have of death and how it stems from unfamiliarity as we send our elderly off to nursing homes and get our meat from styrofoam trays with plastic packaging… but that’s not the point of this post.
With our extremely mobile society we aren’t forced to deal with conflict on a regular basis. We can choose to isolate ourselves from run ins and never see people again. This wasn’t the case just a few generations ago when communities were small and everyone knew everyone else’s business.
The Matthew 18 principle of conflict resolution has been getting a lot of airtime in my circles lately because there are different ways people are interpreting this Biblical mandate for conflict resolution.
I have seen the Matthew 18 model work in a way that gives glory to God and restores relationships. I have also seen it work horribly. Matthew 18 should not be a threat to silence people or stifle reasonable exchange of ideas. It should be considered an opportunity to minister and create peace in a way that gives the glory to God and restores those in conflict into relationship.
This link outlines a fantastic resource of how to walk through Having Hard Conversations. It’s from Watermark Community Church in Texas and if you’re in the midst or still grieving a conflict I’d encourage you to check it out.How to Have Hard Conversations
One of my most significant takeaways from this “How to Have Hard Conversations” philosophy is trying to decide whether what you’re frustrated by is a sin or a preference. We are all unique and have life experiences that give us different trigger points. Leadership is hard and people develop as leaders over time – so there are situations in organizations that are messed up or a sign of immature leadership but are not true, actual sin.
It’s necessary to identify whether you’re seeing sin and or being irritated by a preference.
If your conflict is over a preference issue, my suggestion would be to keep your mouth still and be supportive of the current regime. You might even learn that there’s a method to the madness you’re witnessing and, given the fullness of time, you will see the benefit and it’s beautiful.
If, after quietly watching and waiting, you find that your preference is so strong that you simply can’t be a positive team player, then I believe you’re honor bound to remove yourself from the team. Say, “Thank you,” agree to disagree, then move to where you won’t harm someone else’s vision and find your happiness and joy in something else.
However, things are different when you’re dealing with SIN instead of PREFERENCE. If there is something that violates Biblical principles and can be clearly labeled sin, it’s your duty to address it. We are told as Christians that to see sin and ignore it is an action that is itself a sin.
If you’ve walked through the Matthew 18 process and done your best to seek peace privately without success, then my interpretation is that is is appropriate and honorable to address the sin more publicly with the larger community. The goal, however, is restoration of the sinner, not vindication of your personal agenda.
Remember that at the base of every Matthew 18 conflict over sin issues there should be a sincere desire to be BACK in relationship with that person, living in community.
Counter-intuitive, right? Absolutely opposite of our worldly experience, huh? “I’m mad at you so I want to be closer and in relationship with you!!!” (When I consider this I always visualize Ann Voskamp’s statement that when our children are the most unhuggable is when they need our hugs the most.)
The very idea of being BACK in relationship with the person who irritates us the most is probably not what you want to visualize – and I don’t blame you a bit! That’s a human reaction!
But that is also what gives God the most glory because He is in the business of restoration. We know that we don’t have the capacity in ourselves to love that unselfishly without God, so when we are able to find forgiveness and restoration, we are the living examples of the salvation story, that Christ came to us when we were most unlovable, sacrificed for us in an unimaginable way, and then restores us into righteous community.
Conflict is hard, so hard. It wrecks us emotionally and tears us apart. But it also provides a really beautiful space for us to grow in our relationship with God and trust Him to be the one who can direct our path.
Waiting can be the hardest part of the conflict as well. It’s rare for things to be solved quickly so it’s easy to lose heart. Just remember that phrase, “In the fullness of time.” Wondrous things can happen within the fullness of time while we just do the next best thing.