The Secret to Dealing with Conflict Four Steps to Averting Conflict in Your Life and Leadership
Just like a heart attack, when conflict starts it’s too late. Irreparable damage to the relationship has usually already occurred. Pain and drama engulfs our consciousness. And our time and energy are consumed in the process.
So how should we deal with conflict?
We must deal with conflict just like I deal with heart attacks with my patients: prevent them. Yes, instead of focusing on resolving conflict in your life, focus on preventing it. Most training regarding conflict is entitled something like Conflict Resolution. I think our focus needs to change. I want to talk today about conflict prevention.
I want to be clear to convey that we should not be afraid of conflict, or become passive about it. However, we must get ourselves out of the all consuming cycle of conflict and resolution. The best way to deal with conflict is to avoid it altogether.
It amazes me how often conflict happens. It is all around us. It happens at work, in families, at church, between groups of people, and between countries. You’d think only kids bicker about silly things. But adults can be even worse.
At the onset, l want to be clear that averting conflict is not a passive affair. It does not mean simply running away from it or moving away from people. Just like preventing heart attacks, preventing conflict takes work. We must maintain a healthy diet, weight, and exercise. We must keep our blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol in check. And that takes work. Consistent work. If we don’t want heart attacks, we must live intentionally by certain rules and habits.
It is the same with conflict. Consistent work is required. But for both conflict and heart attacks, the work it takes to prevent them—once they become habits we live by—are much less time consuming and certainly much less costly than the work it takes to resolve them. Here are five ways to live a life with much less conflict. They all center on one key principle: Deal with conflict long before it starts.
Build the Relationship
When couples are discussing conflict with a therapist or friend, their “issues” are rarely the issue. It is the relationship itself that is lacking. Often both parties are to blame for not making their relationship a priority long before the conflict occurred. And when that happens, frequent conflicts arise. So in the core relationships of your life, I want to challenge you to honestly assess the health of each one.
I ask married people, “Do you take time to work on your relationship?” Almost always the response is, “We are too busy.” Busy with what? Working hard to make a living, to put food on the table. Of course that’s important. But when we are too busy to build our relationships, we are setting ourselves up for colossal failure and disintegration of our families. A sad reality we see in over 50% of marriages today.
It is the same in leadership. Here is what I have noticed: Those who have close and healthy relationship, simply have no conflict. All difficult issues are death with, all the time. Think about it in your own life. Wouldn’t you agree that your healthiest relationships are the ones in which everything gets resolved before conflicts are reached?
Why is this true? Because good relationships have the highest levels of trust and communication, sacrifice, empathy, and mutual respect at their foundations. Conflict is much less likely when those truths are the governing codes of conduct.
Set the Expectations
The vast majority of conflicts stem from unmet expectations. When expectations are left unspoken, we open ourselves up to disappointment in relationships. And when expectations and wishes remain undiscovered and unexpressed, resentment begins to fester. And once again we find ourselves in the cycle of conflict.
Remember the best approach to conflict is to be proactive. Invest in your relationships by voicing your expectations and inviting others to do the same. State them clearly, but express yourself gently, in the right timing, and in the spirit of honoring others.
Define the Boundaries
Expectations and boundaries are cousins, not identical twins. For example, a boundary for me is the use of profanity. I just don’t like it. I feel like it dishonors me, them, and the relationship. It cheapens and brings down our communication and our connection. Some may disagree, and that’s okay. That is simply one of my boundaries. That’s how I want to live my life. Now it’s not my expectation that no one will use that language around me. When they do, it’s not a big deal; I don’t react or get upset. I simply ask people to not do it. I am basically saying, “If you want to be in a relationship with me, please don’t do that around me.”
Clearly defined and communicated boundaries are essential for healthy relationships. It takes wisdom to learn how to set boundaries. In the areas of my life that I have learned to set them, conflict rarely arises. In a few areas, that I have learned how to set boundaries correctly, conflict does arise sometimes.
Most conflict starts by our reflexive emotions. I have learned that when I am emotional, I must not trust my thinking. When I started applying this simple rule, I began having much less conflict in my life. When I am emotional (angry, frustrated, feeling down, or disappointed), I not only avoid making contact with people whom I feel these things toward, I also avoid thinking and enlarging these issues in my own mind.
Operate in Grace
Grace says, “Even if you don’t deserve it, I will give it to you.” It is the essence of unconditional love. Conflict happens so often, because we create a culture in our work place or in out relationships that communicate, “If you step on my toes, I will step on yours.”
Grace does not mean taking on the role of a constant victim. It means making self-sacrifice a value that you practice. And sacrifice is often a result when love is the foundation. When grace is practiced in a relationship, conflicts become less common.
Actionable Step: Honestly assess how much conflict you have in your life, especially in the key relationships of your life. If you don’t have much, congratulations. If you do, start working on the relationships in your life based on these five principles.
What I just read: I highly recommend this book if raising money for your ministry or non-profit organization is something you would like learn more about. Raising More than Money: Redefining Generosity, Reflecting God’s Heart by Doug Carter describes how successful fundraising must be steeped in relationships where people are invited to be “partners.” Mr. Carter describes four acronyms that outline the best practices to be followed when it comes to donors: LOVE, LEAD, LINK, LIFT.
- Listen to them
- Open your heart to them
- Value them
- Exemplify generosity
- Lay out the dream
- Explain the strategy
- Ask them for partnership
- Deliver what you promise
- Lift them up in prayer
- Involve them
- Never take them for granted
- Keep them informed
- Listen to them
- Invest in them
- Facilitate their dreams
- Thank them often
For Further Reading: