There are a few things in life that occur over and over again, but somehow we never truly become better at them for whatever reasons. For me this includes writing my signature, hitting the perfect pitch for “Hello”, and cooking the perfect fried eggs. No matter how many times I may attempt these things they never quite come out right.
Likewise there are activities that every human partakes in for which we never quite seem to get it right, or at least never seem to learn and improve. One of these things that I have been thinking about recently is conflict. No matter if you have a contentious nature or are super easy going, everyone at some point in their lives experiences conflict. All through our lives we come into conflict in some way, form, or fashion and yet for some reason conflict, however undesirable, is not viewed as something upon which we can dramatically improve or something we even generally think about.
Why not? Why can we not work to improve how we handle conflict in our daily lives while we drive, hang out with friends, or live with our spouse? Unfortunately conflict is one of those things that naturally creates a type of myopia. Only when we back up and examine ourselves and our circumstances can we really see the path to improving how we interact with others.
So even though conflict is something that we cannot really avoid, we should strive to use it to our advantage in improving our lives and those lives around us. The main question becomes, what is the key to healthy conflict? While there are many things that could be said, I have outlined three points below that seem to resonate with my daily interactions and challenge me to improve the conflicts that I run into.
Without this, nothing is solved because both parties are in their own separate worlds. Communication is one of those things where everything is gotten out on the table. Even though it may be painful (for most guys especially), it is necessary. It is uncomfortable, but all it takes is that first sentence being said and the next steps are that much easier.
In this world you have doers and thinkers. If you are a thinker (taking time to process and acting afterwards) then in serious conflicts it will take you some time to process what you are feeling and figure out from where the feelings are coming. It is okay to take your time to think about what is going on, but never leave yourself an out for not bringing it up (see point 3). On the other hand, if you are a doer (quick to act and process along the way), then you will simply want to realize that not everyone is the same way and it requires patience to develop constructive conversations.
Both parties have to know that it is not the end of the world when a conflict arises. This is where the myopia comes in that I spoke of earlier. Conflict tends to skew how we view the world and circumstances. When we are having an argument with someone, everything that person does is producing a statement on the argument for which you simply use to fuel the flames of your indignation.
When I was younger, I heard someone say that when you walk into a room full of strangers you never have to worry about what you are doing because everyone else is so absorbed in what they are doing that they are paying little to no heed to anything else. For me, this was a truth that pointed to the fact that nine times out of ten, no one is thinking/feeling the exact same thing that you are.
This applies to relationships and conflict because conflict is often one sided where one party feels wronged and the other is completely oblivious. In this case, the oblivious ones (yes, I am talking mostly to men at this point) should of course try to be more aware of how their actions are affecting those around them. But on the other hand, the one who is wronged has to realize that there are always two sides to a conflict and neither one is automatically in the right. The utmost thing to keep in mind in these times is the relationship. Is the conflict worth breaking off ties with someone, or can you use it to grow by walking in someone else’s shoes as the old saying goes?
Even with communication and perspective, though, conflict can be detrimental without resolution. At the end of a conflict (because it must end, otherwise bitterness sneaks in, which can be deadly) there has to be a recognition of guilt (by both parties most likely) and a coming together on a compromise or solution.
In no way is this easy and in fact this is probably the most difficult step to execute sometimes. But the cost of not doing so is never worth it. Unresolved conflict only festers, crops up at another time, and acts as a poison in the individual and relationship.
The key to resolution, lasting resolution, is forgiveness and humility. We must come to a place where we consider the relationship and peace greater goals than some end of our anger or pride. Pride, one of the main roots of all conflict, is deceptive and seeks to raise our desires above those of others while anger is usually our response to feelings of injustice. But we are commanded, as Christians, to always seek the good of others before our own (1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:3-4) and when wronged to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-41).
Holding on to these three things can be one step along the way towards redeeming conflict with your coworkers, spouse, and the random person who cuts you off in traffic. Conflict, while it is possible to be handled with grace, is a weighty thing to carry around with you on a daily basis and much more for weeks or months. Just remember, if you are starting to lose your breath due to conflict simply use a little C.P.R. (Sorry, just couldn’t help it.)