Regardless of who you are, or what background you come from, we could all use some guidance when it comes to dealing with conflict in our lives. Something fundamental for taking steps toward better conflict resolution is understanding that God commands that we love Him and love others. On this second point, we often struggle to love those that we find ourselves constantly in conflict with. But we can find ways to love them and follow important principles that enable us to resolve conflict more effectively and build deeper relationships with those whom we struggle to get along with. The apostle Paul exhorted Christians to “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). However, our ability to do this is heavily effected by our internal motivations and the sinful habits that we have conditioned ourselves to enact when it comes to conflict. I hope that these principles, which seek to help us create new habits, will help enable you to better handle conflict and allow you to experience the blessing from the Lord that comes from His wisdom on the matter.
Don’t Assume the Worst of Others
There are times when you literally witness someone do something horrible, and of course, you aren’t just assuming the worst in that case but you know that someone intended to do something harmful. That is not where this principle would be most useful. Most of the time the situations that we encounter involve someone saying something that rubs us the wrong way, is disrespectful, offends us, or we hear that they’re spreading rumors about us and we have a few impulse thoughts that pop into our minds: “they’re against me”… “I don’t like them”…. “How can I make them show me respect”… followed by a wondering about why they would do such a thing.
This marks the first of three destructive assumptions that we risk bringing to our conflict with someone else. We must not assume that a person is out to get us or wants us to feel bad. We have to stop and think, do we usually intend this when we upset someone? Now, it may be the case that to cause harm is their intent. But remember, you can’t read minds! And you shouldn’t pretend to know everything that someone has been thinking or that you have a complete understanding of why they did or said something.
I have a rule that I try to follow and regularly ask myself when I find am offended or upset at something someone did:
“Have I afforded them the benefit of the doubt”?
And God has graciously given us the first step for resolving conflict in Matthew 18 that both enables us to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and reconcile with them, without the problem becoming worse or growing out of control with others being involved.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15)
This passage is dealing with sin, which is more serious than a simple offense, misunderstanding, or difference of opinion which is what drives most conflicts and would be easily resolved if we would just lovingly, graciously, and humbly go to the person who has hurt us. It is also important that this first step should not include all of our friends. We need to be willing to go to the person, one on one and address the issue with them. Upon going to them directly, we may find that they didn’t even know that they had harmed us or it may help them avoid making a similar mistake in the future! Better yet, we may then realize that we made a mistake and should not be upset in the first place! This also gives us clarity of mind to think on the issue with more perspective. It may actually free us from the risk of becoming bitter and angry, especially if there is nothing to really be bitter or angry about! This is because we went to the person first instead of allowing a false narrative that views them as the “bad guy” to grow in our minds.
Don’t Assume You’re Completely Right
Assuming we are always 100% right when addressing conflict with others is the second destructive assumption. The story that I’ve made up in my head about someone’s intentions may be correct, but if I don’t have all of the information then how should I know? And if we don’t know for sure, then believing the assumption in our minds, which is susceptible to our sinful nature, may lead us to hold on to the weight of bitterness when it may be that our understanding is not even accurate in the first place. It may also lead us to spread the narrative about someone that we’ve created, which is negative and likely degrading, in the guise of “asking for advice about a problem”. Although, what we may actually be doing is partaking in gossip and the slandering of another person’s name who we are called to love. Thus, we should always seek the opportunity to go directly to the person (when we have ourselves under control) and discuss the issue with them! This assumption can lead us down a path of destruction that only shores up the walls of our pride and shatters another persons walls of self-esteem and confidence.
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” (Psalm 34:13)
“With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” (Proverbs 11:9)
Don’t Assume Others Are Completely Wrong
Assuming that someone else is entirely at fault is the third destructive assumption. We should always be ready to learn from others, grow, and mature in our character. This often comes from a point of humility and being willing to admit that we may be wrong. And this is why I have personally had to fight to not make a “decision” on matters of conflict with others until I get more perspective and am able to talk through it with the other person. Although, I have not perfected this (or any of these steps), but I know that this has helped me grow immensely.
Notice Jesus’ instruction about how we should self-examine ourselves before we cross-examine someone else. We may be the one with the “log” in our eye, while the other person merely has a “speck” in theirs…
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
Don’t Confront Over Text or Social Media
Texting is not a good idea when we need to resolve a conflict. Much of communication is done through non-verbal gestures and facial expressions, not to mention the importance of tone of voice. When we text, it is very hard to try to communicate those elements of what we are conveying in words. So resolving conflict over text is unwise, unless you really can’t avoid it. Over the past several years, I have been very intentional to not allow text, or even phone conversations if possible, to be the medium of communication when I am confronting someone about an issue because it is far better to be face to face so that they can hear and see my heart behind the confrontation and the sincerity that I am striving to convey. This has benefited relationships in my life, even with those who may be harder to get along with, by allowing us to get to know one another through it and building relational chemistry.
There is probably nothing more unwise and hurtful than blasting someone about a personal conflict on social media. You have literally just enabled hundreds of people to see something negative about someone, without any context of the situation, and have now made the conflict with that person about 100 times more difficult to resolve.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
Don’t Place Conditions on Forgiveness
There’s a concept that is truly beautiful, unique, and powerful in the Christian worldview that has honestly grown and transformed my character more than anything else has, and that is, forgiveness. When we find ourselves in conflict with someone and hurt by them, we often expect that in order for things to be “right” with them, they have to apologize to us first.
An apology is a good thing, especially when it is sincere. It helps us know that the other person understands that they are wrong and have some confidence that they will try not to repeat their harmful words or actions. It also helps us when we apologize to learn humility and that we have the ability to harm others, even unintentionally. It even allows for the matter to be more formally “put away”, hopefully for good! But, there is something interesting in Scripture that challenges me whenever I feel like I am owed an apology and do not receive one. The Bible says:
“Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
I am commanded to forgive as Christ forgave me of my own sins. My sin debt that Christ paid for when He died on the cross was horrendously mountainous, and He did so about 2,000 years ago without me doing anything to deserve His forgiveness. Of course, I had to realize my sin and receive His free gift of forgiveness and grace to be justified as “righteous” before God for eternity. Nevertheless, there is an important principle here! There is a special blessing awaiting us if we follow Christ’s example of forgiveness with others in our live’s. Forgiving without condition when someone hurts us, yes even if they don’t apologize, enables us to experience the love of Christ in a special way and free ourselves from the chains of bitterness, pride, and anger. I would challenge you to follow in Jesus’ footsteps the next time someone who has harmed you has not shown you the grace and love that you deserve.
Thank you for reading! I pray these were helpful for you. Please like, share, or comment with your thoughts, I’d love to here from you!