The ultimate goal of handling conflict is resolution. Here are nine principles for dealing with the conflict and moving toward resolution.
Start with the right perspective on conflict.
Conflict is unavoidable, even among mature Christians. This is the natural result of being a people not yet glorified, and living in a fallen world. Remember, conflict can be used constructively, and a certain level of conflict is healthy.
The most critical element in bringing peace out of conflict is one’s personal attitude. My attitude toward the other person must be a loving one. In order for my attitude to be loving, I must be at peace with myself and aware of my own sinful ways of relating. Personal issues that have not been dealt with in my own life tend to show up powerfully in conflict situations.
When you feel you have been wronged by a fellow believer, always use the biblical process to seek a biblical solution (Matthew 18:15-17).
A Christian perspective should control our approach. God is still sovereign, and the Holy Spirit can give insight and wisdom and strength. Christ has set us free from the domination of the flesh. We are still part of a body in which God desires unity and peace (Colossians 3:15). Our ultimate goal should remain that God is glorified by our actions and that others are encouraged and built up by involvement with us.
Do not ignore the fact that some conflicts are of a spiritual nature. We are not to be ignorant of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11).
Make prayer an integral part of the process.
Set a date to bring both parties together to resolve the conflict. Ask them to be diligent in prayer before the meeting. Encourage them to ask God to work in their lives and expose their part in the conflict and to give them understanding of those on the other side of the conflict.
When you get both sides together, spend time praying together before you discuss issues. As appropriate, stop periodically during the process to pray about specific issues you are dealing with at the time.
Deal with conflict at the lowest level of intensity possible.
As soon as tension is recognized, get together with the people involved to attempt to resolve the issues. The earlier this is done, the better. The further around the conflict cycle you allow things to go, the harder they will be to settle. The longer injustices are collected, the more issues there will be to resolve!
Generate valid and useful information about the issues in the conflict.
Ask hard questions of all parties involved in the conflict. Investigate allegations fully (Proverbs 18:17). There are two sides to every problem. Work to get a common definition of the problem. Until this is accomplished, the conflict cannot be resolved.
Keep everyone focused on the conflict issue.
When everyone meets, be sure the gathering focuses on the issue. Agree on the ground rules for the meeting. Four helpful rules are
Give people permission to disagree.
Give people time to state their positions clearly. Do not let them be interrupted.
Protect people from being needlessly hurt. Do not allow personal attacks.
Keep the conversation civil, even when emotions are intense. Help people learn proper ways of expressing strong emotion.
Suggest options to give people paths to get out of conflict.
The deeper people get into conflict, the fewer options they see for how to get out. Conflict tends to escalate rapidly, especially in the emotional dimension. Before long, not only are our egos involved, but our very sense of personal survival may seem at stake. The more intense the emotional response, the more our focus is restricted to the idea we have to win. If we are not careful, our focus can lock onto winning and being “right” as the only viable option. Therefore, the leader should offer options to help people find paths toward resolution.
Admit a mistake.
When you have been wrong, admit it, and ask forgiveness. Attempting to hide a mistake or wrong will create a larger problem and will destroy people’s trust in you. While it is hard for any of us to admit when we have sinned, or even failed, a forthright admission will gain more respect than a selfish attempt to preserve our invulnerability.
Use your leadership capital wisely.
The greatest influence you have comes from the level of trust people have in you. Take care to maintain that trust by not acting selfishly or rashly.
Do not use your authority as a leader to coerce people into compromising their position. It is better to “agree to disagree” than to force an agreement that requires the other person to compromise his/her beliefs. You may gain your point, but you will lose the respect of the person you coerce. You will probably also lose his or her future cooperation.
Guard your own emotions and be careful what you say during a disagreement. In the end, whatever you do, do not make the problem worse.
Realize that not all conflict will be resolved- at least not right away.
Sometimes people have too much invested in the conflict to let go of it and resolve it. Some people use the opportunity to remain angry at others so that they will not have to confront their own personal issues. Others use bitterness toward others to justify their own failures in such cases, do what you can to maintain relationship so that if the other person has a change of heart and is ready to reconcile and resolve the conflict, there will not be an extra load of grievances that need to be addressed.
Evidently Paul and Barnabas split without resolving the difference between them. Though the Scripture does not give the details, the dispute was later resolved. Sometimes it takes us a while to open ourselves up enough to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.
About the Contributors
Dr. Andrew B. Seidel served as executive director of the Hendricks Center at Dallas Seminary for fifteen years, which provides leadership training and development for seminary students as well as ministry and business leaders. A graduate of West Point and a colonel in the U.S. Army, Dr. Seidel was senior pastor at Grace Bible Church in College Station, Texas, for fourteen years. He left the pastorate to provide leadership training for pastors on the mission field in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Today he continues to work in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia with Entrust (formerly BEE International). The author of Charting a Bold Course; Training Leaders for 21st Century Ministry, Dr. Seidel and his wife Gail Norris Seidel have been married for more than fifty years and have two married children and six grandchildren.