I once met a man who hadn’t spoken to his brother in a decade or longer. I was surprised to learn his brother lived just up the street from the man. When I asked what precipitated their estrangement, he said, “I don’t even remember what made us stop talking to each other.”
How sad these brothers allowed long-ago, now forgotten conflict to end their relationship!
Following are thoughts on understanding conflict:
The Anatomy of Conflict
Interpersonal conflict is nothing new. We all have sources of conflict in our lives that are either ongoing, or just around the corner. Often, the greatest conflict is between family members, motivated by jealousy or greed.
Conflict is fueled by numerous factors including the following:
One of the most integral ingredients in conflict is personality type. By understanding personality types, you can begin to realize why you have conflict with certain people. Surprisingly, the person you encounter the most conflict with is likely your same personality type!
Those with a choleric personality are aggressive, demanding, loud, and rarely think they are at fault. Cholerics are brusque and matter of fact, often wounding others with their words without realizing it.
The sanguine personality is people-oriented, fun, but often hard to pin down for a serious conversation. While they’re quick to volunteer, they sometimes fail to follow through with what they promised.
The melancholy personality is analytical, organized, and focused, but you may have a hard time reaching a melancholy on a deeper than surface level.
The phlegmatic personality is easygoing and compliant. They often wait for someone else to make decisions.
Jealousy is a frequent cause of conflict. When others have what we covet, they become the target of our criticism. Conflict smolders under the surface any time jealousy is present.
Bottled rage is an explosion waiting to happen. If you’ve swallowed anger over past injustices, real or perceived, you can expect anger to surface at unexpected moments, resulting in conflict.
The desire for perfection often leads to struggles. Those around you grow weary of having to meet your perfectionist standards and conflict ensues.
Rehashing the Past
Conflict feeds on reruns. Rehashing conflict prevents forward motion.
Practical Steps to Resolving Conflict
- Listen – Sometimes we’re so busy getting our point across that we fail to listen to others. Pay attention and hear the frustration, fear, or hurt behind the words.
- Talk it out – Acknowledge your own hurt to someone other than the person with whom you’re in conflict. However, this doesn’t mean unloading on everyone you see. Choose a trusted friend or counselor who will hold what you say in confidence. By expressing your feelings, you’ll be better able to keep anger out of the equation when talking to the actual person with whom you’re in conflict.
- Accept your part in conflict – None of us like to admit we might be to blame, even partially, for conflict. Take time to examine your words, attitude, and actions.
- Take the first step – Realize it’s up to you to take the initiative. If you wait for the other person to make the first move, it will probably never happen. Many people are oblivious to their own role in conflict and feel initiating resolution equals taking the blame. God’s desire is for his children to live in harmony. He’ll bless you for beginning the conflict resolution process.
- Don’t expect too much – Once you initiate conflict resolution, don’t expect to see immediate results. You may never receive an apology. Accept this knowing you have done your part to end conflict.
- Show respect – Even if you are at odds with someone, you can still show respect. Attack the issue rather than the person. Avoid absolute statements that include words like “never” and “always.” Be aware of your own “hot buttons” and find ways to control anger. Listen to the other person and don’t talk over them while they are speaking.
- Adopt an attitude of humility – Those with a haughty, superior attitude rarely succeed in resolving personal conflict.
- Mediation – Another method of conflict resolution is to have a mediator, someone who can keep discussions on track regarding the issues rather than letting the parties hurl personal attacks at each other. Just make sure the mediator is impartial and honestly conveying information if acting as a go-between.
- Agree to disagree – Certain conflicts render the parties at an impasse. If this is the case, agree to disagree.
- Forgive – When God forgives, he also forgets. He doesn’t continually bring up past sins and beat us up with them. We can follow this example and extend grace to those with whom we’re in conflict.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV).
Candy Arrington is a writer, blogger, speaker, and freelance editor. She often writes on tough topics with a focus on moving through, and beyond, difficult life circumstances. Candy has written hundreds of articles, stories, and devotionals published by numerous outlets including: Inspiration.org, Arisedaily.com, CBN.com, Healthgrades.com, Care.com, Focus on the Family, NextAvenue.org, CountryLiving.com, and Writer’s Digest. Candy’s books include Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Well (Bold Vision Books), When Your Aging Parent Needs Care (Harvest House), and AFTERSHOCK: Help, Hope, and Healing in the Wake of Suicide (B&H Publishing Group).
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