First of all to all of our peacemaking friends out there I’d like to say I love you, I married one of you but when push comes to shove…
Conflict is part of life with people.
Conflict is unavoidable and actually unhealthy to try and live without. Marriages where couples never fight have a higher percentage ending in divorce. Weird.
I’ve been talking recently about our amazing ability to get personally offended with just about anyone over anything, especially when it’s none of our business. In the workplace, at home, at school, wherever you find yourself offence seems to crop up.
Today I’d like to address how we actually deal with the initial conflict in the first place and suggest that we generally don’t handle it that well. If you’re tired of a back trail of broken relationships this will be perfect for you. Lessons I’ve been taught by wiser people in every area of life, and the lessons I decided I’d rather learn myself the hard way. I seem to enjoy the hard way because I keep doing it. Live and learn I guess…
To recap: our response to the initial conflict with that other person is often to 1. Kick our chair back. 2. Fortify with allies and 3. Walk out.
Looks like we could use some retraining… unless you’ve got it all together and are happy with the habits you’ll be passing along to those in your branch, organization, job site, or to the kids in your own home. The rest of us would like to see some improvement so here we go…
My greatest regrets in life are not really the things I’ve done to other people, but the things I’ve said. On the other side of it, the things people have said to me and the way they said it seems to stick, even when there’s not much truth involved. I’ll bet you have the same thing going on in your life? Why can we remember harsh words from a sixth grade teacher? Doesn’t make sense to our “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” motto. Yeah… I wish….
First lesson in conflict is to guard your tongue. James the brother of Jesus wrote quite a poignant speech about the tendencies and evil inherent in our tongues (James 3 in the Bible).
Once you say something you can’t take it back. A fire goes out of your mouth and consumes the people you love the most. We must bring our tongues under strict discipline! In my father’s home that’s how we were trained but most people didn’t have the advantage or luck to live in the home I grew up in. You were accountable for every single word and action in a loving environment, which is healthy and should be normal.
But I have the feeling that may not have been normal for you, so let’s get to work. Guard your tongue. Once you say it you pay for it. Or more accurately the other person does.
Your tongue is a fire and a knife.
Some people stab just to see if their knife works.
Here’s another thing you need to know about your words:
Once you say it, it twists in the air and takes form. We all know people who get sick but why does it seem that those who are constantly talking about it get sick more than the rest of us? Words can save you or hurt you. They are powerful and should never be taken lightly.
If you’re good with words like I am you’ll have to really watch this. If I engage in a verbal spat with someone look out! I probably won’t lose… Sounds great until it’s my wife on the other side of the argument. It’s one of the reasons I don’t get involved in online fights about things. Once I start tearing down the other person’s argument I might not stop until it gets personal, mostly because the online laptop warrior with the arrogant ideas that cost them nothing normally throw low blows first and don’t play by the rules because they don’t hang out with people who will call them on playing dirty.
Tiny rant about that… you get why I don’t get involved? I love answering questions and dialoguing but I want to do it in an atmosphere of honor and respect. I don’t want to only be known for what I DON’T believe in, what a waste of a life! I’d rather build what I do believe in.
We MUST learn to Fight Fair. You can’t avoid fighting and shouldn’t really. What you should avoid is Playing Dirty and fighting with no rules. Obliterating the enemy is not a great motto when you’re trying to walk through conflict and move your relationship along.
Here are some predictors of increased likelihood of divorce. These will apply to the breakdown of any relationship you value, from home to workplace. Specifically, young couples who Street Fight with these methods are much more likely to divorce than those who have developed healthy fighting techniques.
1. Criticism of the other person’s personality.
I’ve never actually done this so let’s move on…
(If you believe that, I caught a fish TTTHHHIIIISSSS BIG yesterday!!!!)
Seriously, do we make it personal? Do we say “You always! You’re like this and I hate it! Why don’t you ever…?” It’s a bad habit that we need to mature out of…..
Rolling your eyes. Throwing little hissy fits. Blowing things out of proportion. Stomping around. Harsh, hate filled words. Lack of listening and lack of respect. You let the other person know exactly what you think of them!
I so love (tongue in cheek) how a defensive person is hard to nail down. Why? They rarely accept responsibility for their words and actions.
What’s the first thing out of your mouth when the other person brings a concern to you? “But I didn’t… No I never… I didn’t mean to… But YOU… I had to do that because YOU….”
It’s a habit that might cost you that relationship altogether when you finally are forced to acknowledge your crap when it hits the table. Normally about ten years too late…
4. Stonewalling (emotional withdrawal).
Oh you quiet ones thought I’d forgotten about you! HA! I live with one of you!
For any number of reasons the lie people who withdraw have bought is that you can avoid the conflict by keeping your heads down and saying the magic words. It is very likely that the person on the other side of the conflict is begging you to engage in what will definitely be a messy and emotional conversation so that your relationship can move forward but… you won’t do it will you?
Sooner or later it will come crashing down.
It is actually a form of control. Words can go out like a fire from some and be withheld and frozen by others. Both parties seek control. Whether your relationship dies by fire or ice, it still dies. Raw courage is what is needed and you will likely need to immediately begin spending time with one of those whole hearted, awkward people you’ve been avoiding. You know, the ones you secretly admire who can walk openly into conflict knowing that they probably won’t win but it’s part of life and they’d rather deal with it smaller and sooner than later and greater?
These are lovely people who will tell you their own weaknesses and have a good laugh while they’re doing it! I used to stonewall but I watched my mom do this and decided it was more fun. Now it’s a habit and I like it!
Here are some habits to get into when conflict happens. Ready?
1. Come alongside.
When the party across the table knows that you want them to win (in fact you want US to win), trust for you begins to grow. When trust grows relationships can mend and real issues can get talked about.
I used to deal with irate customers. Ironically irate customers are normally easier to deal with than angry church people because they just kick their chair back and take their problems to the church down the street without a conversation at all. I get the memo a few weeks later with vague hints about the initial issue normally blown out of proportion by this time…
One technique I found worked quite well with customers was saying “I can see why you’re concerned!” Instantly they know you’re on their side. Then you can represent your company’s side of the story and start a convo rolling with resolution in mind. I don’t normally get to say “Yeah, maybe we didn’t get that right” with offended religious people because they’re fortified and “God already told them to leave!”. No matter how often I hear “God” contradicting Himself in the mouths of angry people it still slightly amuses me. It might as well because there’s not a thing I can actually do about the few people who have already decided they don’t want to talk about it, they only want to preach AT me which is really, really great. Like some church people, there will be some in relationships you have that will leave no matter what you do. Then it’s Not my Circus, Not my Monkeys!
2. “My issue is…”
Notice, not YOUR issue is…
This part is actually our responsibility. We often tell ourselves that the offending party ought to be the one doing the approaching, but you’re a big girl (or boy)! Speak up! You’ve got something to say? Say it!
Random note, if the other person is a male he probably doesn’t know he’s done something in the first place… just sayin.
Once we get over expecting the other person to bring up our issue it will be easier to confront. Notice I said IT will be easier to confront, not HE will be easier to confront. The issue is the thing that needs overcoming here, not HER.
Imagine a bridge between two people at work called relationship. When sin or misunderstanding or competition or whatever happens to cause conflict, the bridge is broken by it. We tend to think the bridge is broken by THEM but that normally isn’t the case. Of course someone can be a total jerk and destroy that relationship, but things like addictions and sin etc are normally the issue. The issue has broken the bridge and MUST come up in conversation for your relationship to be healed and communication and trust to drive back and forth again.
Peacemakers… Stonewallers…. if the bridge is broken and you build a wall around yourself for protection you will eventually do it alone, or be looking for another job, or move to another town to start the process over again.
Pain and conflict are inevitable. My best relationships also cause me the most pain. It’s part of this package called life and I wouldn’t have it any other way, mostly because it actually will never happen any other way no matter how I feel about it:)
“Thanks for hearing me. I’m committing to helping you by ______.”
“And I’m committed to helping you by ______. I’m sorry. Would you forgive me?”
“What’s on TV?”
(You might have to revamp this for work, but you get the idea. This is how secure and healthy people deal with conflict.)
I just know that at least for some of the less painful stuff this is actually how easy conflict could be. I know because it’s how I approach it from my end. My personality helps as I don’t tend to bleed out like people who I call the “oil in the machine”. I’m the guy who turns the rocks over because I honestly can’t watch a train wreck over and over without doing something to change it. It drives me nuts.
My wife is the oil in the machine. She is a wonderful girl and a peacemaker and the reason I can take hits from angry people when I have the nerve to speak up about off limits topics that are killing us. She’s the reason I get out of bed in the morning to try it all over again. She has an inherent belief in people and I need to hear WHY it’s worth it if one person’s life is changed. I love people too, but it just looks and sounds different.
I was born to deal with conflict. The only way I can walk into some of the no-win situations I do is because I make key assumptions:
First? I assume that I love you.
I assume I will love you after we have this conflict. My love is a decision, not a preference. It is not based on you at all actually. Before you get offended, listen to why I said that: it is based on Jesus’ love for me. As a Christ follower hate is not an option, it is a sin. I don’t get it right all the time and have to employ monumental amounts of forgiveness but I was reconciled to God when I didn’t even know I had a problem. I had to cross that bridge myself of course, but nothing I could ever do would have been enough to build it in the first place. It was a miracle. I have never gotten over it. The mercy I received I’m expected to pass on to you. That’s a decision, not a feeling.
Second? I assume you love me and will after the conflict.
You have to make a choice to believe something about people and this is my choice. It doesn’t always happen this way but I would rather give and be hurt then try to protect and be safe. There are people’s lives in the balance and I can’t get negative or bitter or it will cost Jesus the souls He died to save.
If in the back of your mind you suspect the other party will leave if it gets bad enough it will likely be a self fulfilling prophecy.
I’d rather be a naive realist than a bitter one.