In John 16:33 Jesus warns that we will have trials and sorrows in the last days. He then comforts us by saying we should take heart because He has overcome the world. While I have no delusions of being the Messiah, I believe He could have said that in the last days we will “experience conflict.” To that, I say Take heart! because conflict can be managed productively.
For the past 30 plus years, I’ve been a mediator. I have put myself between people who are at odds with each other. If that doesn’t tell you I’m a sick man, I don’t know what will! But it has always been a great joy to see people come into my office bitter and combative and leave able to treat each other civilly and better able to resolve their differences.
We all experience conflict at times, mainly because we are all imperfect human beings trying to deal with other imperfect human beings. We’re all in this marvelous adventure of life together, and there will be times when we’re just not going to get along. So, over the next several months, I plan to bring you practical tools, tips and techniques you can use to help you experience more peace and joy with less strife and grief.
How to be positively disruptive
Based on my mediation experience and training, I’ve developed Relationship CPR (Conflict Prevention and Resolution). Please note I didn’t say conflict avoidance. Avoiding conflict is often foolhardy and unproductive. Typically you end up just making the situation worse. You are usually far better off addressing the conflict— but you must do that in the right way.
While I do not advocate avoiding conflict, I am convinced you can prevent many disputes from ever occurring. I’m talking about the trivial, insignificant, minor matters that, if you’re not careful, can blow up and become something you don’t need, want or deserve. I appreciate the expression, “Not only was it not a hill to die on, it wasn’t a hill to get sick on.”
You can prevent many conflicts, but not all. You will sometimes have significant differences with others you regularly interact with at work, home or church that you need to address, or your relationship could be in trouble.
Here’s one of my favorite tips: “Be disruptive.” I enjoy teaching this concept because when I was young I used to get into a lot of trouble for being disruptive, and now as an adult, I advocate the practice.
This is how it works. You’re in a conversation with someone that is beginning to escalate out of control. That’s likely not going to stop on its own. All you have to do is say, “Hold on. I suddenly have an urge for fresh air. How about we step outside, go for a walk and talk about this along the way?” You’ve just disrupted the negative interaction.
Once outside, simply say, “We need to understand each other. You go first. Please talk to me civilly and respectfully, and I’m going to do my best to understand you. Then I hope it will be your turn to understand me.”
The quest for understanding
At the fundamental root of most, if not all, conflicts is the fact that each one of us has a deep desire to be understood by the important people in our lives. It’s how we were created. Newborns have only one means of communication – they cry, hoping someone will understand their needs and respond appropriately. Then we reach the toddler stage and gain some mastery of the language. But if you have ever been around a two-year-old trying to be understood, yet no one can figure out what they are saying, you know it is not a fun experience for either party.
Throughout our lives, we want to be understood by others. Chances are, if you’re having an unpleasant conversation with someone, perhaps they want to be understood by you. So I heartily recommend you do what Dr. Stephen Covey suggests in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit five is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” That’s a great practice that will help you to prevent and/or resolve conflict.
Several texts in the Bible exhort us to live at peace with our fellow man (Heb. 12:14, 2 Cor. 13:11, Rom. 12:17-21, Phil. 2:1-5, and more). Again, this will be challenging at times, but by being disruptive and genuinely seeking to understand others first, your relationships can run much more smoothly.
I look forward to being back with you next month.