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A 5-Step Process for Conflict Resolution

August 16, 2012

I’ve been thinking lately about conflict resolution between Christians. The question I have asked myself is how two believers can resolve a conflict. What needs to happen?

The reality, or course, is that methodologies don’t resolve conflicts, people do; and if the people don’t want to resolve the conflict, it won’t be resolved. Still, I want to share the steps I’ve identified. Perhaps you will find them helpful.

Before diving into the specific steps, I want to say I take it as a given that the entire process must be saturated in prayer from beginning to end. And I don’t include that as a simple ‘tip of the hat’ to our spiritual responsibilities. Ultimately, in conflict resolution between believers, we are seeking a spiritual result, and if that is to occur, the methodology must also be essentially spiritual. This is a continual acknowledgement that we are seeking God’s will and not our own, that the pursuit of our resolution is His pleasure and not ours, and that we are willing to be humbled and confess our errors (as difficult as that may be).

In addition, I would suggest that fasting would be a reasonable accompaniment to prayer during many periods of conflict resolution. Only the Spirit’s leading can help the believer discern whether to fast or not. The best suggestion I can give here is that we endeavor to remain sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and be willing to fast when He desires.

Okay, that said, here is my suggestion for a 5-step methodology for conflict resolution:

1. Confrontation. If there is a conflict, it exists between two or more persons, and one of them recognizes there is a conflict. That person has the responsibility to go to the other person and express the conflict. It doesn’t always happen that way, of course. Folks sometimes recognize a conflict and just leave it, allowing it to simmer until it congeals into bitterness or worse. But if there is to be resolution, the conflicting parties must clash (amiably, we hope).This requires great courage, and it is accompanied inevitably by risk to the relationship.

This raises the question of whether believers should ‘confront’ every little difference they have with others. I doubt they should. I think it depends a great deal on whether one is able to ‘let go’ of the conflict. (I’m not talking about clear cases of sin. I’m thinking of differences of opinion and personality that produce conflict, though I suppose one might make a reasonable argument that these are usually (always?) the result of sin.) We all have differing tolerances for conflict. With my poor short-term memory, I can legitimately forget some differences and remain blissfully ignorant of them until they are brought up by someone else. But not everyone has that gift of forgetfulness. And, honestly, some conflicts are too big to forget. So, it seems to me, if some conflict comes to mind when I say the words “conflict resolution,” you should probably seek its resolution.

There is an exception, however. I would suggest that you should not seek resolution if the problem is yours alone. If you are the one with the problem, if you are the one who is uptight, if you are the one causing trouble, fix yourself and recognize that the issue is yours. Recognize that, though there may be a real conflict, it may not necessarily be with the other person. (Think about what Jesus said about removing the beam from your own eye first. And yes, I know it can sometimes be difficult to know if the problem is yours or someone else’s. Seek wisdom from God in the matter and trust the Spirit to give you discernment to know the difference.)

Anyhow, the short of it is this: in general, if you want resolution to a conflict, go to the other person and seek that resolution.

2. Conversation. The second step toward resolution involves open communication concerning the problem. Both parties must have an opportunity to express their sides, and the conflict must be clearly stated and agreed upon. This may prove harder than it sounds. The conflict occasionally revolves around a conflicting understanding of what the conflict is. Significant amounts of time may need to be invested to come to an agreement concerning what issue is being addressed. But if this agreement is not achieved, the conflict will continue. The process will have proved no better than a bandage for a boil that has left the underlying illness unaddressed.

3. Choices. Possible solutions must be articulated. Many mediations, it seems, bog down at this point. Attempts at resolution remain in the whirlpool of conversation and become little more than venting sessions for the unhappy parties. But this isn’t helpful.Once the nature of the conflict has been agreed upon, participants must move on and brainstorm solutions. And once these solutions have been compiled, participants should evaluate them and chose the one that will be most pleasing to God.

4. Confession. If the participants have followed the previous steps, this will be the natural point for confession. Pursuing the resolution that is most pleasing to God will inevitably highlight differences between His desires and ours. We will need to confess those areas in which we have permitted our egos to reign, and we will need to confess, to God and one another, the harmful actions we have pursued in obedience to that reign. This, then, becomes a two-way reconciliation: to God and to the other party. We acknowledge the ways in which we have sought our will over His, and we confess the harm our thoughts and actions have brought others.

5. Commitment. The final step of the process is commitment. This commitment is also twofold. It is a commitment to pursuing God’s will, and it is a commitment to pursuing the agreed-upon actions toward the other party. Another way of stating this is to say that the final step involves a commitment to remaining engaged in the process of reconciliation. That is a recognition that we are apt to wander, that our egos are prone to reassert authority, and that we are called to submit to the Spirit’s authority in the moments and hours of each day.

As I review this, I conclude that steps four and five become an ascending spiral that engages the participant at higher and higher levels. Renewed commitment leads to renewed confession, leads to renewed commitment, leads to… etc. And that seems reasonable, inasmuch as the sanctification process is ongoing and will continue until our glorification.

So, there it is — a 5-step process for conflict resolution. What do you think? Have I left something out?

NEWS YOU CAN USE

§ When people name drop God in order to make you do something. I really enjoyed this article, even if I myself have been the one guilty occasionally of name dropping God. The suggestions for dealing with such folks are fun and may even work. (And, I’m not necessarily endorsing all the suggestions, particularly the one “Tell them you’ll ‘pray about it,’” unless you really are going to pray about it. Still I loved the author’s comment following that suggestion: “For centuries, Christians have been using this as a stall tactic.” – I wonder if any of the disciples tried that approach after receiving the Great Commission. Hmm.) Read the article at: http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2012/08/when-people-name-drop-god-in-order-to-make-you-do-something/

§ 3 Ways to Become as Disciplined as an Olympian. This article identifies three key areas that open the door to Olympic levels of performance. The author argues that developing these three areas will permit all of us to perform at a higher level in our work and personal lives. It serves as a helpful reminder of some basic life principles. Find the article at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/whole-life/3-ways-become-disciplined-olympian.

§ 3 Tremendous Benefits of Coaching. Life-coaching may seem like a new fad, but it has been around for a long time. It used to go under different names, such as “mentoring” and even “discipleship.” This article highlights the benefits of remaining in an accountable relationship with a coach. Read it at: http://www.faithvillage.com/article/08152b177bd9450d80d751e812a555cc/3_tremendous_benefits_of_coaching.

§ What Happens in Vegas (does not) stay in Vegas! (Loved the title.) This article addresses the care Christians should take in their use of words, and it took me a few minutes to catch the link between the topic and the title. Still, it’s a good article and good reminder that we should glorify God with our words. Read it at: http://coffeeshopjournal.com/2012/08/06/what-happens-in-vegas-does-not-stay-in-vegas/.

§ What Humpty Dumpty Can Teach Us About Sexual Purity. (Another great title.) This article makes creative use of the well-known nursery rhyme to reiterate biblical truths concerning sexual purity. It also serves as a great example of how to use something well-known in popular culture to illustrate and underscore scriptural principles. Read it at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-humpty-dumpty-can-teach-us-about-sexual-purity-79593/.

§ Judge Rules 10-year-old Jewish Girl Can Convert to Christian Despite Mother’s Objection. This news report describes an interesting situation that occurred recently in Britain, and it raises some interesting questions. Should a judge be able to overrule a parent’s objection to his or her 10-year-old’s participation in a religious ritual? Could the daughter have converted without acting against her mother’s wishes? Let me know what you think. Read the report at: http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2012/08/judge_rules_10_year_old_jewish_girl_can_convert_to_christianity.html.  

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