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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.


How We Say It

How we communicate is so, so important. Did you know that 70-93% of our communication is non-verbal? We can try to hide what’s going on inside of ourselves, how we feel about someone, or the fact that we’re just having a bad day, but chances are extremely high that it’s going to come out in our non-verbals. What we’re not saying can easily speak louder than what we are saying. I think tone is one of, if not the loudest, non-verbals in our arsenal. Take this sentence…

I did not tell John you were late.

What happens when you put the emphasis on a different word each time you speak the sentence? It completely changes the meaning every time.

Now this doesn’t mean that the remaining 7% of verbal communication isn’t important. What we say combined with how we say it makes for some powerful speech.

With God being the author and source of communication, He has so much wisdom in the way we communicate. He loves and values us deeply, so that guide post alone is a great motivator. Some of my favorite guide post verses…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29

When our thoughts are bent toward good and excellent things versus hate, judgement, etc, then what seeps out of our mouth and body language tends to be full of love and grace.

Africa Family Thoughts

Communication 101: Creating Understanding

Communication is the process of creating understanding where two or more people are involved. What does is take for that to be effective? Talking and listening. Seems simple, right? We all know it’s not. So many things get in the way of the understanding space…personality, culture, family, tension, our world view, body language, tone, and the list could go on.

I’ll never forget a trip we took to Thailand in 2016 to visit family. It was the first time the cousins had been together in quite some time, so I was determined to take photos of anything and everything we did. Our first week was spent in Koh Chang. One day we found ourselves at a beautiful watering hole that, of course, had to be documented. I found a sweet family there with their twin daughters and asked, “Will you take a family photo?” They said yes, so I got my camera out and started preparing the settings. Once it was all set, I looked up to see this scene in front of me…

Someone once told me that the meeting place of communication is humor and humility. Obviously I wanted them to take a photo of my family, but I decided to lean into the humor at that moment and just go with it. They might have left that waterfall thinking I was so weird that I would want a photo of them with all my family, but then I wouldn’t have a fun story to tell.

But how about those times when the meeting place needs a little (or a lot of) humility? If we want to be people who are committed to creating understanding, then it’s going to take work, time, and a whole lot of humility. I find this hardest when what I’m trying to communicate is not what the other person is hearing or understanding. It can be easy to put the blame on them, because you can’t help what they hear. Right? Wrong. You can. Our intentions are not always understood because of all the things that crowd the understanding space. The only way we can move toward understanding is if we humbly dig in and commit to the process.

Because people and relationships are valuable.