When I was still living and working overseas, I had a bit of a conflict with a coworker. She taught the class right after me, and she started coming into my
classroom before I was finished with my class. I decided to deal with this privately in the office, and I asked her not to do it anymore as it was disruptive when I was trying to wrap up my class. She responded by verbally attacking me and declaring that she didn’t need to stop, that she had the right to enter that room to start getting set up. However, despite her response to my request, she did in fact stop entering my classroom before I dismissed my students, and we were able to continue working together peacefully.
I personally hate conflict, but I have come to realize that there are times when addressing issues is necessary, regardless of whether it leads to conflict or not. There are some who revel in conflict and find ways to instigate it whenever possible, but I believe most people fall in the middle, dealing with conflict as it arises but neither dreading nor enjoying it. However, it seems to me that most people don’t handle conflict as effectively as they could.
Ken Thomas and Ralph Kilmann developed a theory of conflict handling which identifies five distinct styles:
- competitive – I must win this argument
- compromising – Let’s meet in the middle
- avoiding – I’d rather not deal with this
- accommodating – You can have it your way
- collaborative – Let’s see if we can find a creative solution
Each style has it’s merits and drawbacks, and there are situations where each might be the preferred approach. A first step in improving your own approach to conflict is understanding which style is your default. For example, my default is to avoid the conflict; I don’t believe every disagreement is worth confronting. However, I have learned that a delay in dealing with an issue usually makes the situation worse, and I am still learning how to recognize sooner when it is important to deal with something head-on.
Wherever the Bible speaks of reconciliation, it is addressing broken relationships, not the resolution of disagreements. In my experience, it is impossible to fully agree with someone on all points; there will always be some measure of disagreement, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Differing perspectives are necessary for creativity to flourish and for assumptions to be challenged. When there is a difference of opinion, you are forced to explain your position more explicitly, leading to clearer thinking and better decisions.
There is much that has been written about dealing with conflict – a quick Google search brings up over 65 million results in under one second! However, I have found three keys to resolving conflict and living with differences of opinion in my own life.
1. Humility. This is the number one most important element of successful conflict resolution, which is why I think so many conflicts remain unresolved or even escalate. Someone has to take the first step toward resolution, and that step requires setting aside your sense of fairness. Just remember – conflict is not fair for anyone.
2. Conscious listening. Another key reason many conflicts go unresolved is because people get too caught up in their own perspectives and refuse to consider the other side’s point of view. Very often, both sides have valid points that need to be recognized and taken into consideration.
3. Creative problem solving. If the particular conflict under consideration does not allow for “agreeing to disagree,” and compromise is distasteful at best, then a collaborative approach is necessary. This approach requires honesty and openness from both sides, as well as a release of preconceptions and a willingness to think outside the box. Finding a solution in this way is usually time consuming, but ultimately the result garners greater buy-in from all involved.
Conflict is inevitable. How we approach a conflict determines the extent the conflict can be constructive or destructive. If you value the relationship, consider the three points above the next time you find yourself in a dispute.
Links and Resources
22 Bible verse about peacemakers
51 Bible verses about conflict resolution
64 Bible verses about reconciliation
An article that explains the five conflict handling styles as well as the “Interest Based Relational Approach” to dealing with conflict, an approach based on the concepts of the book Getting to Yes by authors Roger Fisher, William L. Ury, and Bruce Patton
Check out these previous blog posts for more on my thoughts on:
humility – The Power of Gentleness
conscious listening – Reclaiming the Art of Listening
creative problem solving – The Value of Diversity