Communicating Through Conflict

Conflict ~ an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, or interests

I can’t do a series of posts on communication without talking about conflict. One, because conflict is inevitable. If you’re breathing, you’re going to experience conflict. And two, even though conflict is inevitable, most people try to avoid it rather than deal with it. The thing is, that doesn’t work. I’m not a conflict junkie, but I do see the potential of what it can do. If walked out well, it can bring greater intimacy in relationships. That’s what we’re all longing for, right?

Walking out conflict takes communication (talking and listening). A healthy confrontation is about bringing something to the light in a spirit of gentleness. The single most thing that has transformed the way I communicate is believing the best in others and not making it about me. Breakdowns happen when we forget the other person has value and then what comes out is usually dishonoring. My absolute favorite confrontation in the Bible is the story of Nathan confronting David found in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. It’s a beautiful story of Nathan coming in a spirit of humility and gentleness to tell David that what he was doing was really, really awful. He told a story that appealed to David’s heart and then delivered the startling news that brought David to his knees.

As someone who has worked with a lot of people and therefore experienced a lot of conflict, these are my own tips that I strive to practice when walking out conflict and confrontation.

  1. I stop and check myself. If I’m frustrated, then it’s not the time to try to resolve something. I say a little prayer and zoom out to get some perspective. Slowing down my feelings and emotions before I speak and remembering that the goal of confrontation is not about me airing all my grievances but about a greater level of relationship has helped me immensely.
  2. I think about my words and non-verbals. It’s easy to do some back handed sorries. You know like saying sorry but then giving excuses on your actions. This will go nowhere. Taking ownership, like full ownership, is vital to working through conflict. Phrasing that has helped me a lot is… “When you did this, it made me feel…”
  3. Ask questions. Questions tend to disarm defenses. Most people do not like to be told what they’re doing wrong or where they need to change, but if they get there through a series of questions, it’s usually much more effective.
  4. I believe the best in people and seek to honor them. It changes the way I communicate. I try to separate the person from the conflict and not entertain the thought that everyone is out to get me and dishonor me. It’s simply not true.
  5. I try to avoid being a false peacemaker. A false peacemaker is a conflict avoider. It’s saying, “It’s fine,” when it’s really not fine. Conflict and confrontation is hard. When feelings and emotions become too much, there’s the temptation to try to rush through just to end the conversation. The problem is that when you don’t come to a place of restitution, the conflict just lingers under the surface. You can bet that someday it will burst open, and it won’t be pretty.

Doing all these steps does not ensure an amazing conflict experience. I wish it did, but we’re all different and all at different journeys in our lives. If we can set aside ourselves and truly want what’s best for the other person, then we can more easily lean into the grace and patience we need so that others can walk the path to resolution and wholeness.


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