5 Steps to Conflict Resolution

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We all have conflicts.  We find it hard to endure differences of opinion in our marriages.  We encounter obstructions to our advancement in our workplace.  We can even feel offended by people who worship differently at the same place of faith.  There are various solutions people try.  Some of us fight for power and control by shaming our opponents.  Others of us withdraw from the battleground to a bunker-like man-cave.  Still more of us stare wordlessly at the situation and hope the situation will blow over.  These usual fight, flight, or freeze responses become patterns over time.  We get stuck in a rut of playing a familiar role.  We don’t like our adversaries and we don’t really like ourselves.  Here are five steps to resolving conflict well that are not commonly followed well:

  1. Lay aside personal privilege. We have access to resources because of where we are born, the colour of our skin, our sex, or our family ties.  This is controversial because we call these advantages ‘privilege.’  People in conflict rarely admit they have privilege and even more rarely agree to give it up.  If the goal in conflict is to dominate the opponent, to crush them, and to win personal power and prestige giving up an advantage is suicide.  However, no-one really wins when another human being is crushed and overpowered.  We all win when each person relinquishes the illusion of superiority and explores the possibility that all human beings are equally valuable.
  2. Take on a low position.  If a person criticizes you, if at all possible, see how it might be true.  Are we secure enough without having to be right?  If we start with an acknowledgement that our own flaws are at play – or our own inadequacies are triggered – other people start to feel comfortable powering down around us.  When everyone lays down their weapons and ceases pretending they are king or queen, peace has room to break out.
  3. Seek acts of service.  Does your opponent need a meal?  Do they need a ride?  Are they looking for someone to cut the lawn when they are on vacation?  Acts of service prove you are not an adversary out to destroy another human being.  In actively caring for, or even loving, another person, the walls start to come down.  Also, the focus ceases to be on the issue of contention.  An act of service brings the bigger picture back into play.
  4. Embrace vicarious suffering. Suffering is often avoided at all costs.  A conflict can be an act of self preservation:  We fight someone else in order to avoid the pain or the confusion on the horizon.  Not all suffering works for good.  However, entering into some pain or uncertainty can form a bridge.  Giving up an evening of entertainment, for example, in order to have a conversation might be frustrating but it can lead to deeper healing.  Walking alongside an individual in his or her pain is rarely easy but it is often worthwhile.
  5. Allow God to lift you up.  God is good and just.  He sees all.  He understands your cause and will do right in the long run.  We may not even see the results we hope for in this life.  However, our life is not about building our own platform or glory, it is about God’s glory.  God will ultimately be glorified.  For the Christian who worships God, this knowledge brings peace.

All these steps are drawn from the example of Jesus used by Paul to resolve the conflict in Philippi.  Paul tells them:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:5-11)

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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