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IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO WHEN
1. GO TO THE OTHER PARTY: Resolving conflict requires dealing with the person you are in conflict with. Go to that person and ask him to join you in facing your differences, resolving the conflict, and restoring the relationship. If you do not go to the other party, you cannot resolve the conflict or restore the relationship. (NOTE: Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15-18)
2. COOL DOWN THE EMOTIONS: Separate the problem from the people so that you attack the problem not the people. It is common to feel angry, deeply hurt, fearful of what may happen, or unloved when confronted or criticized. However, these feelings are concerned most about the good of self and least about the good of the other person and the relationship. They promote defensive arguing in response to confrontation, justification of what was done, denial of any wrong done, counter-criticism, resentment, hostility, withdrawal, and division. Strong, negative feelings do not encourage resolutions to conflict that protect or improve the relationship. (NOTE: Ephesians 4:26-27; Colossians 3:12-14)
3. GUARD AGAINST ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: Reject thoughts like, "I must win or else. . .", "If he gets his way on this, I've lost everything", "If she thinks I am this bad, she must not love me", "Real friends accept friends the way they are", "We're never going to resolve this issue, so why try", "If only he would. . ..", "Before I will do...she must do. . ."
4. DO NOT FIGHT OVER NUMBERS: In the end, it doesn't matter if the offensive thing was done once or hundreds of times. What matters is if it was done or not done enough times to cause problems in the relationship. Fighting over numbers turns a discussion into an argument. Say "It happened too often." or "You have not done it enough. . ."
5. SEE THE CONFLICT AS A JOINT PROBLEM: It is rare that conflict is one sided in origin. See your side as well as the other person's, and join forces in bringing resolution.
6. IDENTIFY THE REAL ISSUE: There is the stated issue, then there is the underlying interests. The underlying interests are made up of concerns, fears, expectations, needs, desires, and hopes. If we are to identify and understand the real issue, we must try to identify and understand what is not being said but is deeply felt by each person involved in the dispute. If the underlying interests are not met, the issue will not be resolved in a way that rebuilds trust and restores the relationship.
7. INVESTIGATE: Avoid the trap of thinking you know everything about the conflict. Ask questions, verify or clarify all assumptions, get the other person's side of the story, find out how your behavior has effected them. Do your best to make sure no one is being misquoted, misinterpreted, or misunderstood.
8. STICK TO THE ISSUE: Avoid getting sidetracked from the issue by arguments over numbers (You've done it a hundred times!), attacks on the person (You're really dumb if you think that!), dredging up the past (Remember when you did...?), and bringing up additional unresolved issues (Well, you also...!). Be sensitive to when the focus is changing and steer back to the issue. USE PENCIL AND PAPER! If other issues need to be resolved, write them down and return to them another time.
9. WORK THROUGH FORGIVENESS: Forgiveness is essential to conflict resolution and relationship restoration. Do not short-change this part of the process. Freely offer it and graciously receive it. (NOTE: Ephesians 4:32)
10. SHOW CONCERN FOR THE COMMON GOOD: Show that you care about the good of everyone involved in the conflict - and that includes the other party and yourself. If you show by your attitude and words that you care about the good of the other party, you earn the right to ask them to do the same for you. (NOTE: Romans 13:10)
11. POINT TO THE AREAS OF AGREEMENT: Establishing the fact that both parties agree on something is crucial to working together to find solutions that will resolve the conflict. These areas of agreement provide a basis for moving forward in conflict resolution.
12. BE IMAGINATIVE IN LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS: Brainstorm ideas. List the ideas. Evaluate the ideas on the list. Pick the ones that are realistic, protect and promote the good of both, and have the best chance of being implemented by both parties. Select a solution that both parties can agree to, own as their own, and will put into practice.
13. AGREE ON A METHOD OF VERIFYING PROGRESS: Do not leave the working out of your resolution to chance. Establish a method to meet on a regular basis, for a time, to review progress and correct the course if necessary. This will help the resolution accomplish its intended purpose of restoring trust and the relationship.
14. AGREE ON A METHOD FOR DEALING WITH FAILURE: Getting back on track after falling off is important to the restoration of trust and the relationship. Agree in advance how you will handle failure if and when it occurs.
15. FOCUS ON THE FUTURE AND RESTORING TRUST: It is too easy to focus on the past, the pain, and the evil of the other person. This will do nothing to restore or strengthen a relationship. If the goal of conflict resolution is to protect and promote relationships, then focus on what will do that instead of what has happened. Put the past behind you and find joy in living and loving.
16. SEEK THE HELP OF A NEUTRAL PARTY WHEN NECESSARY: Conflict has the ability to increase our emotions and decrease our sensibleness. A neutral party can provide the atmosphere and help for courteously and sensibly resolving the conflict. Seek that help when needed.
IMPORTANT ASPECTS OF A RESOLUTION
It is important that both parties feel satisfied with the process used to achieve resolution. To feel satisfied, they must believe the process was fair. They must believe they had sufficient opportunity to tell their side of the story and express their concerns. They must believe they were listened to, and that their basic rights were protected. A resolution is only lasting when both parties are satisfied with it. Work to make the process satisfactory to everyone involved to help promote satisfaction with the resolution.
It is important that both parties feel satisfied with the terms of the resolution. To feel satisfied, they must believe the terms are reasonable. If the terms seem excessive or too hard to fulfill, or are agreed to under pressure, they will be abandoned when supporting them is no longer convenient or beneficial. A resolution will last when both parties are satisfied with it. Make sure the terms are satisfactory to each party involved to help promote satisfaction with the resolution.
It is important that both parties agree on a system for verifying the progress toward fulfillment of the resolution. When there is no system of verification, the commitment to change or do certain things can be forgotten or neglected. This sets the stage for a recycling of the conflict. Progress toward the fulfillment of a resolution ought to be verified on a regular basis. When progress is steady, both parties are satisfied; and the resolution will last.
It is important that both parties agree on what will be done if and when failure to fulfill the resolution occurs. If a process for handling failure is agreed on in advance, its implementation will ensure a satisfactory response to failure when it occurs. When failure occurs, people often say, "See, nothing has changed!" What they mean to say is, "Resolving this conflict and restoring our relationship is hopeless because you won't do your part!" When one party feels the other is not taking his part of the resolution seriously, the resolution will fall apart. To make a resolution last, failure must be dealt with openly and honestly. The best way to help that happen is to agree on the process before failure occurs.
It is important that both parties feel emotionally satisfied with the resolution. This means feeling forgiven and free from guilt or shame over past failures or wrongs done. It means feeling accepted and respected, feeling free to be spontaneous and open instead of guarded and closed, and feeling that the relationship is the valued thing that brought the conflicting parties back together. When both parties are emotionally satisfied, the resolution will last.
SINFUL SOLUTIONS TO CONFLICT
Sinful solutions to conflict often bring immediate relief from what we do not like or want to experience in relation to the conflict itself or person with whom we are in conflict. But, they also cause relationships to become shallow, damaged, and ultimately broken. Examples of sinful solutions to conflict are:
1. CHOOSING TO AGGRESSIVELY CONTROL/RESIST OTHERS
BY BECOMING HOSTILE AND ABUSIVE OR CRITICAL AND DEMANDING
This response is equal to grabbing the biggest stick possible and beating the other person into submission. When we are this intent on making the other person do what we want, or not do what we don’t want, our goal is self-serving control, not meaningful relationship. Believing personal happiness is our greatest treasure and that controlling others is the most reliable way to gain personal happiness, we see conflict as a horrible threat to our sense of well-being. So we keep conflict at a minimum and feelings of personal happiness at a maximum by controlling others.
Since we are thinking of ourselves, we are not concerned with how our controlling behavior affects others. This method may make people do what we want, but it also makes them feel disrespected and unloved so that they do not want a relationship with us. It seemingly makes life better for us, yet it drives away those we’re controlling so that we lose what is truly valuable - relationships built on mutual love and trust.
2. CHOOSING TO PASSIVELY SUBMIT TO OTHERS
FOR THE SAKE OF A PEACE WHICH FREES US FROM CONFLICT
True peace is two-sided, and true love cannot be bought. Yet we are so fearful of conflict that we would rather keep the peace through appeasement instead of respectful confrontation and reasonable conflict resolution. And after allowing ourselves to be used, we tell ourselves we have done the right thing.
The appeaser is acting just as self-centeredly as the aggressive controller and manipulator. Both choose their method of dealing with conflict on the basis of self-interest. Each is looking out, first and foremost, for their own interests. Both are destroying the possibility for a mutual relationship built on love and trust.
Do not be deceived. There is no peace in appeasement. Appeasement is the process of giving the aggressor what he wants in the hope of preventing turmoil and conflict between the aggressor and appeaser. Appeasement turns a mutual relationship into a mutual effort to destroy the relationship by each using the other to get what they want while denying each other respect and love. This is not two people seeking each other’s good, but each looking out for his own interests. This method can keep the one who fears conflict from feeling the uncomfortable effects of open conflict, but the best a relationship can be under these conditions is shallow. The appeaser will feel used, and the aggressor will feel appeased. Neither will feel loved and respected.
3. CHOOSING TO DISTANCE OURSELVES FROM OTHERS
FOR THE SAKE OF SELF-PROTECTION
It is natural and right to protect ourselves from people who are mistreating us in some way. It is selfish, and therefore sinful to protect ourselves in a way which elevates self-good over (1) the health of the relationship, (2) the good of the person mistreating us, and (3) the good of anyone else the offending party may adversely affect with his offensive behavior (currently or in the future).
We often think that those who hurt us are intrinsically bad (an evil flaw in one’s inherent nature). Therefore, keeping our distance is our way of keeping the relationship shallow and casual. It is our way of putting a buffer zone between ourselves and those who will certainly hurt us again because of their character flaw. Though distance shields us from the threat of pain from an offensive person, it also prevents us from resolving our differences and restoring our relationship to a healthy condition.
4. CHOOSING TO LIVE WITHOUT PEOPLE WHO OFFEND US
BY PUSHING THEM AWAY OR IGNORING THEM OR AVOIDING THEM
When we have been hurt by someone and we do not want to risk being hurt again, the quickest and easiest solution is to put ourselves out of reach of the person causing our pain. The best way to put ourselves out of reach is to drive them away from us or stay away from them. Alienation dramatically reduces the risk of being hurt by them again, but it also drastically reduces the possibility of regaining meaningful relationship with them. However, when we pick this solution, we want people to know that it isn’t that we haven’t forgiven the offending party, it’s just that we don’t want to be around them anymore. While this method protects us from those who hurt us, it makes it impossible to restore a relationship with them.
5. CHOOSING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR OTHER’S BEHAVIOR
Too often we try to shield others from the consequences of their behavior. We try to make them think everything is alright between us or between them and others when it isn’t. We try to say and do things they ought to do in an effort to make them look better than they are.
Taking responsibility for others in this way is our attempt to keep control of a situation or a person in order to minimize the harm they do to us and others. From fear of having to live with the painful consequences of their behavior, we scurry around explaining or defending their behavior and attempting to patch up the damaged relationships they leave in their wake. Yet from fear of what they might do if they figure out what we are doing, we try to hide it from them.
This method makes us look and feel like we are noble and loving. What a lie. When taking responsibility for others, we are just as selfish as the person we’re taking responsibility for. We do this because we care most about ourselves and least about the good of the other person and the quality of the relationship. This method can help us limit the destructive effects of another person’s selfish choices and behavior, but it robs the relationship of it’s mutual trust and mutual commitment to the good of each other.
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