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17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Rom 12:17-18)
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. (Heb 12:14-15)
You will come into conflict with people. You will come into conflict with your friends, your family, even people in Chi Alpha. As long as there are people involved, conflict will happen.
One thing I have seen is that many people do not practice good conflict resolution. They know Matt 18: 15-17, and they will take their conflict to their friend. But they forget the command to live in peace with people as much as it is possible. Make no mistake: living in peace with someone, resolving your conflict, will require effort—even sacrifice—on your part.
Conflict resolution is simple and fairly common sense. But when you are in the middle of an argument, common sense has gone out the window. Egos are bruised, and they want to bruise back.
One of the most important things to remember when you’re in an argument is that most conflicts are a result of miscommunication. Someone is insulted where no insult was meant. Someone feels undervalued or disrespected when the other did not mean it.
1. Assume the person who wronged you did not intend to.
This is the simplest, biggest, and often the most difficult step. While it’s very, very basic, it’s also the most difficult and you don’t generally want to do it. When you feel insulted, it’s not your first instinct to say, “Oh, I’m sure you didn’t mean that.” No, you’d rather get even.
Assuming that the sin against you wasn’t intended is a major sacrifice. It requires setting your own ego aside, denying your basic instincts. But it is done in the name of peace and love.
It can be an easier thing to do when you truly care about that person, because the two of you already have a well-developed relationship. But it can also be harder to forgive for that same reason—this is someone you love and trust, so the hurt they caused is much deeper and sharper. It can be harder to put aside. I find it depends on the situation whether it’s easier or harder. Don’t be surprised either way.
The rest of this will be easier if we create a situation and go from there. Let’s say you and your friend Dirk Gristlefist (action hero) were hanging out with a group of friends when he let slip a secret you had told him in private. That would hurt a lot—not only are you embarrassed, but your trust has been betrayed.
2. ALWAYS have any sensitive discussion like this in private.
This keeps a Dirk from being embarrassed unnecessarily, and keeps him from feeling the need to be right in front of his friends. There are very, very few instances when it is appropriate to do this in public, so I won’t go into that here.
Also remember: you may be the one who is wrong. Resolving these conflicts in private saves you from embarrassment as well. For this exercise, we’ll assume you weren’t wrong. But there are many times when you try to resolve a conflict and find out that you are every bit as responsible for the problem, and that is all the more reason to keep your conflicts private.
You may actually be the one who’s wrong. It happens. It’s okay. Some of the best times of growth for me have been when I went in with my complaints and came out realizing I was the wrongdoer.
3. NEVER accuse the other person.
Don’t say, “You always ___” or “You never ____” or “You did ___.” Don’t call him or her names. Because then there is no discussion to be had. You’ve just made an accusation. What if it’s a simple misunderstanding? What if it wasn’t intentional at all? Instead, talk about how you feel, what your perception is. Don’t start your statements with “You,” but with “I.”
Don’t say, “Dirk, you jerk! Why did you blab my secret to everyone? I’ll never trust you again!” Now Dirk’s in a corner and his instinct is to defend himself. Your conflict is going to resolve through a fight, if it resolves at all.
Rather, try saying, “Dirk, I was really hurt when you told our friends about _____.” Now Dirk is finding out that his actions hurt his friend. He’s more likely to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t realize you didn’t want people to know that,” or even “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t know what I was thinking!” And your conflict is well on the way to being resolved.
It is very important to avoid accusing people. The moment an accusation flies is the moment it stops being a conversation and turns into an argument or a fight.
4. Listen to and try to understand the other person.
You have to find the root, the cause of the problem, before it can be resolved. And you can’t do that if you don’t listen to the other person.
This is so important. You need to find the root of your problem. Even if it was malicious and Dirk shared your secret because he felt wronged by you and was just getting even (remember how I said you might be wrong?). Yes, his action was wrong, but staying mad about it won’t help. Instead, you’ve found out the source of your conflict. Now you set about resolving it.
5. ALWAYS keep your disagreements between you and the other person.
This goes with all conflicts. You may talk with one or two close friends or mentors about the issue as a first check to see if you are wrong and to get advice on how to approach the person if that is still needed. But never spread your disagreement.
If Dirk told a group of friends a secret you’d trusted him with, you don’t respond by going to Rex Thunderskull and a few of his friends and talking about Dirk behind his back. How could it possibly be helpful to turn others against your friend? You may want to do it because you’re getting people on your side. But then it’s not about solving the conflict but about winning, and that’s just not healthy at all.
When you call people to your side, you’re creating a faction. And that only leads to fracturing the whole group. And since you’re a student leader, there’s a good chance “the whole group” is your Chi Alpha group. It’s a part of the Kingdom of God, and you’re working to build it up; why would you want to break it apart?
Spreading your conflict to people who aren’t involved isn’t just unhealthy. It’s sinful. It’s even worse than just getting in a fight with your friend—at least that is just between the two of you.
A serious conflict came up one time between me and another staff member. We were discussing an issue, and this person said something like, “And we’ve been praying for the Spirit to guide us, and now this has come up. It seems like this is something the Spirit might want.” This was the first suggestion I’d heard that the Spirit might be urging us toward this decision, so I wanted to take a bit and pray about it and seek the Spirit. We all wanted what the person was proposing, but weren’t sure if we should do that. But the other person wouldn’t let me take that time.
Sometimes we confuse our will with the Spirit’s will. It’s a natural mistake to make and we have to be very careful. But I didn’t realize that, when I said we should take time to test and see if this was the Spirit’s leading, the other person heard me accusing them of claiming it was the Spirit’s will just to get their way. Though I didn’t mean that at all, they thought I was accusing them of blasphemy. Naturally, they were very upset. And I was upset, because someone was fighting against discerning of spirits, which is something we’re supposed to do.
We went into another room and argued it out. In this particular case, the other person started with a vague accusation (“What are you doing! How dare you!” without saying what I’d done). I was immediately put on the defensive. It also threw me for a loop because I thought I was the one who’d been wronged. I was also literally backed in a corner. It was one of the most difficult times in my life to stay calm. When I was backed in that corner, socially and physically, I didn’t want to be calm. In all truth, I wanted to punch this person because they were up in my face and my back was against the wall.
But that wouldn’t have been living peaceably to the best of my ability. It would have been a terrible thing for us as a staff and for the ministry as a whole. I had to make myself keep calm—not just for myself, but for our ministry.
I had to express what I was feeling without just accusing. And I had to find out what I was being accused of. So I asked, calmly and without accusation. Once I found out this person thought I’d accused them of blasphemy, it was suddenly very understandable why they were so hostile.
And that made it easy to resolve the conflict. I explained that wasn’t at all what I’d intended, and that I was sorry I’d given this person that impression. And we hugged—we were both so relieved that it was all just a misunderstanding. Because we’re not just coworkers, but friends, and it meant there would be no problem between us or with the ministry.
Memorize these techniques. They’re going to be very hard to remember when you’re hurt and angry. I certainly didn’t want to use them when I was in that conflict, but it is absolutely a vital thing to do if any of us are to strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.