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Dealing with Conflict

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2016 17 Mar

A drawing of a girl looking sorry.

How should we handle the conflicts that come our way? You’ve probably heard the business buzzword “best practices,” a phrase used to describe the best methods for accomplishing any given task. Are there best practices when it comes to dealing with the inevitable conflicts that arise in our lives?

Let me begin by describing a couple of worst practices. The first is to duck out and pretend there’s no problem. All of us have preferred escape routes: eating, shopping, engaging in social media, taking a walk. Some are helpful as cool-off strategies that can help us calm down and gain perspective. But as formulas for resolving conflicts, they fail miserably. In the end, escapism is all about me. It does nothing to solve the problem.

Another worst practice is blaming others, putting them on the defense for their faults and weaknesses. Afraid, angry, or frustrated, we lash out, escalating the conflict in the process. If we can’t bring ourselves to confront the person directly, we may displace the blame by kicking the cat (or the dog), yelling at the children, or even castigating ourselves, because somebody has got to take the blame. Like escapism, blame is also all about me.

The most effective strategy for bringing peace to a personal conflict is neither to escape nor to attack but to stand still in the midst of it and allow ourselves to feel the pain. The point is to feel not only our own pain but also the pain or perspective of the other person. This takes grit. But with practice and grace and prayer, we can begin to imagine what the other person might be thinking and feeling. We can also consider the effect our words and actions may have. We don’t have to conclude the other person is right and we are wrong, but we do have to be open to his or her perspective. This best-practice strategy puts the focus on us rather than on me.

If two people in a conflict can learn to do this for each other, it will be far easier to resolve the conflict. Even if you are the only one who is willing to face things in this way, you will find it can be a transformative process, allowing you to experience more of God’s peace.