Family Relationships

How to Handle Conflict Well

Just because we are Christians does not mean we will never encounter conflict. In fact, quite the opposite. Jesus himself encountered near-constant conflict with the religious elite of his day, and while we may not all experience the same kind of opposition Jesus did, we will certainly experience it with family, friends and colleagues. Paul often spoke of quarreling and disagreement among the church body, and many of the scriptures address this experience so common to life as human beings. Conflict is inevitable, so how do we deal with it in a way that honors God? Here are some suggestions:

1. Stay on topic. It is counterproductive to revisit old wounds or issues, particularly if they are assumed resolved. Stick to the conflict at hand — stay specific. Don’t use the words “you always” or “you never” — remain focused on the issue you want to address and try not to exaggerate to make a point.
2. Choose a time to discuss the conflict when you and the other person can come to the table calm and rested, rather than keyed up, tired or stressed. Having a clear mind and a calm spirit will be far more productive than the alternatives, which can lead to careless words and misunderstandings. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
3. Refrain from assigning blame to the other person. First, prayerfully consider how you may have contributed to the conflict before you come out guns blazing. Be prepared to own those missteps. Second, it’s important to share your feelings, but avoid using phrases like “You make me feel….” Instead, say “when you…, I feel….” This helps you not only take ownership of your own feelings but enables you to avoid heaping responsibility on the other person for your feelings or the unintentional effects of well-meaning actions.
4. Listen carefully. It’s crucial to truly listen to the other person rather than simply stewing on what to say next or the points you want to make. Try reflecting back to the other person what you heard to be sure there are no crossed wires, i.e. “So you’re saying you feel pressure from me to…. Is that correct?” Try to think about what it would feel like to be in their position, regardless of whether you feel their perception or actions are justified.
5. Forgive. As believers, we are called to forgive in entirety, as God forgives us. God says that our sins are spread as far from us as the East is from the West — and we are called to do this with others. In the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande, the author suggests spelling out four statements to use that give forgiveness a more concrete application:

  • “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.”

6. Suggest a Solution. Try to keep in mind what you heard the other person express — what do they hope to get out of this discussion? Philippians 2:4-5 says to look also to the interests of others in addition to your own. How can you reach a mutual understanding and, even better, a mutual decision about what to do going forward?

Above all, it’s important to consider how your actions and words honor God. As you navigate each step, ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit along the way and prayerfully consider how you might glorify Him in the midst of this conflict.

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