You have plans to take a road trip to visit a college friend in another state. Your parents tell you that it’s not safe and you cannot take the car. What do you do?
Your professor hands you your homework with a note saying, “We need to talk” at 4pm on a Friday. He’s out until Monday and you stew about it all weekend. What do you say?
Your roommate continues to leave dirty dishes in the sink, clothes in the washer, and invite friends to sleep over after repeated requests to stop. How do you handle the next conversation?
Conflict: a serious disagreement, argument, quarrel, clash, friction, or squabble. Any situation where your concerns and desires differ from those of another, even if they’re not aware of it.
Ahhh, conflict…it happens. It happens at home, at school, at work. And it happens for the rest of your life. So what do you do?
From a Biblical perspective
God is looking for peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Peacekeepers avoid conflict and apologize for things they haven’t done. And they don’t share how they really feel. Peacemakers pursue reconciliation at the risk of their own comfort. They communicate their feelings honestly and own their mistakes. (Matthew 5:19, James 3:18, Matthew 7:5)
Unfortunately, most of us have a fear of conflict. We tend to prefer an ‘artificial harmony which ultimately prevents the possibility of a productive, ideological conflict.' Why is that?
What stops us from experiencing healthy conflict?
There are four known fatal fears that cause us to avoid conflict: 1) being wrong, 2) losing, 3) rejection, and 4) emotional discomfort. But that’s not all. Family history and dynamics also play a part in this equation. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann spent 30 years studying conflict and measuring individual responses to conflict, and they've determined there are 5 styles of conflict (TKI) based on our level of assertiveness (it’s all about me) and cooperativeness (it’s all about you):
Avoiding—a lose/lose mentality, “I’ll think about it tomorrow”
Accommodating—a lose/win mentality, “it would be my pleasure”
Compromising—win some/lose some mentality, “let’s make a deal”
Competing—a win/lose mentality, “my way or the highway”
Collaborating—a win/win mentality, “two heads are better than one”
So where would you put yourself? Think about the last conflict you were faced with. What was your gut reaction to that conflict? How did you handle it? And how does your family history play into this?
There is no one style that is perfect all the time. It’s not possible or realistic. It depends on how much time you have, how much you value the relationship, and the importance of the issue at hand. If you are dealing with an unhealthy person, the competing style works best. If you are picking a restaurant for dinner and you really don’t care, then accommodating fits the bill. If you want to find the win/win for your clients and your business, then true collaboration is needed.
What if confrontation is needed?
What do you do or say? Consider the following approach:
Prepare—evaluate the situation. How important is the issue and relationship and how urgent is this matter? What’s going on with me, my feelings, my values and beliefs? And what might the situation look like from my partner’s perspective?
Plan—what do I want from this discussion, what do I want to be different? What are the best logistics—phone or in person? What’s an ideal time? And how do I maintain a posture of curiosity, empathy, and humility?
Engage—deliver a message that is clear and concise such as “When you (state behavior), I feel (state feeling or impact). And here’s what I need instead (state request).” Seek resolution through exchanging data, having a dialogue and reaching a peaceful agreement.
Life is full of conflict. Learning to navigate healthy conflict is a life skill. So which one do you want to be…a peacekeeper or a peacemaker? The choice is yours.