Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Conflict & Smelly Fish: 5 Helpful Steps to Navigate Disagreements

Few of us enjoy conflict. Personally, the thought of facing conflict can give me an upset stomach. Do you ever feel that way?

Dealing with disputes among friends, co-workers, family members, or others, can feel overwhelming.  Our minds can become so fixated on brewing strife that we think of little else. It can be a hefty distraction to say the least. If we’re not careful, we can allow conflict to steal our joy.

I know a select few people who have learned to manage conflict effectively. However the majority of us tend to hold to the wishful thinking that “if I ignore this problem, it will go away.”  Avoidance might be comfortable in the moment, but it is not the healthiest nor the most productive option. An alarming 25% of employees report that conflict avoidance resulted in sickness or absence from work. When conflict arises at home, calling in sick is not an option.

There’s no doubt that facing conflict and working through issues is the better route.  My pastor often shares this analogy:  

Serving fish for dinner will lead to a particular aroma that can penetrate the whole house. At the conclusion of the meal, if we were to heap the scraps and leftovers into the garbage and let them sit overnight, the entire house would smell even worse the next morning!  We’d avoid that stinky situation at all costs and purposefully take out the trash right after dinner, wouldn’t we? 
So it should be when trouble brews in our relationships.  The longer we allow a problem to continue unaddressed, the smellier it will become. Our best solution is to “take out the trash!” Confront issues in love and in a timely manner to avoid smelly problems.  

The question is: HOW should we do it?  Please know that while I still handle conflict very poorly at times, I have learned some things that help me navigate a little more quickly and effectively.  I share these points, not with an attitude of accomplishment, but with the heart of a student who continues to learn and grow:

1) Realize that disagreements are a normal and healthy part of all relationships.  We can’t possibly agree on every point with every person. If we do, something’s out of whack.

2) Pray over the matter.  Ask God for wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17)  Seek the Lord’s leading that both parties would agree with Him and His will for the situation.  If we independently seek the Lord’s plan and approach Him with moldable hearts ready to comply and obey, before we know it, we’ll also agree with each other.

3) Examine yourself carefully.  Maybe… just maybe, your opponent’s complaint has some truth to it.  Ask yourself (and also ask the Lord) what responsibility you have in the matter, what things need repentance, and how to make amends for any wrong you’ve caused.  I know - this isn’t easy and it can be a painful process, but it’s necessary.  As much as we hate to admit it, we’re not always right and we often make mistakes.  Let’s own up to them.

4) Move forward in humility and gentleness.  The Apostle Paul teaches that we should consider others more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3). He instructed Timothy to pursue peace and address opposition with patience and gentleness (2 Timothy 2:22-26).  When we present a defensive attitude, try to “win” an argument by justifying our actions, or belittle another in the name of unity, we’ve profoundly missed the mark.  Humility and gentleness will always earn greater favor than aggressive confrontation.  This does not mean neglecting to present our points, but doing so with grace and mercy. 

5) Consider the character of the other person when seeking to understand their words or actions.  This has been monumental in my marriage and I strive to apply it to relationships throughout my life. (I’m making progress.) If my husband hurts my feelings or causes emotional pain, I remind myself that he is my greatest ally. He is my God-given partner with whom I walk through life on a daily basis. From what I have learned about his character through more than 30 years of knowing each other, it is never his intent to cause harm.  Bringing that certainty to the front of my mind helps me gain a healthy perspective on a fresh disagreement. I can then gently let him know how I feel and ask him to clarify his point. More times than not, this helps us conclude a disagreement before it really begins. We can then navigate as partners and teammates rather than opponents. 

This is not a magic formula. It’s intended to offer a starting point that allows for positive progress.  Sadly, in some cases of conflict, the other party wants nothing to do with reconciliation and may refuse to take steps to move forward.  My advice in these situations: continue to pray for the relationship and the Lord’s healing. Then, wait on the Lord and His perfect timing.  Keep an open heart and maintain a willingness to move forward as the Lord prompts. 

There is only one person we can control in any given situation:  ourself. As long as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with others.  When we do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, He is sure to bless and honor our efforts as we glorify and honor Him.

Your Turn:

Would you rather avoid a conflict or navigate through it?

What is your most effective advice for overcoming conflict?

Continue the conversation by commenting below or join me on Facebook or Twitter!

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


No comments:

Post a Comment