To live in community is to find ourselves in conflict. Unless we willingly submit our whole selves to another person or organization, at some point we will disagree.
Disagreement is usually not fun. It can lead to a whole mess of issues if allowed to get out of hand. Sometimes the facts are easy (Sue missed the stop sign and hit Sam’s car and it’s all on video), other times the issue is rooted in emotion or conviction. Most often, it’s a bit of both.
Like many, I’ve had to learn the hard way about how to manage disagreement. I’m so thankful for those opportunities of my sharp edges rubbing up against someone else’s sharp edges, and having guides along the way. Conflict provides the opportunity for us to become better people. That said, I wouldn’t mind a conflict free life!
Here are a few steps that may help you move forward. Each situation is different, so I have attempted to make these as inclusive as possible.
Public Service Announcement: If your spiritual, mental or physical health is threatened, please seek advice and help from an experienced professional. Pastors may be the first step, but they are normally not trained as therapists, psychologists, accountants, lawyers, security or medical personnel. Sometimes you are lucky if they had more than one pastoral counselling class, however others may have extensive training in one or more of these areas.
1) Pray that God’s Will, not human will, be done. I follow the theology that humans cannot be perfect – including me! – and only God’s Will is pure. By honestly praying for God’s Will, we open ourselves to the Spirits work in our heart, as well as the hearts of those involved. We are also open to outcomes we may not prefer, or even like. Continue to pray throughout the process. (Or modify to fit your comfort level/beliefs.)
2) Articulate the issue in writing (lists, charts, paragraphs, pictures, etc.). Use “I” statements, such as ‘I feel’, ‘I think’, and ‘I hope’. Be as specific as possible. Also include any questions you have regarding the situation.
3) Let the topic sit for at least a day (if possible) and then evaluate what you have written. Did you miss something? Do you notice any main points or areas of increased emotion?
4) Articulate what ‘next steps’ you can take, looking at all possible avenues. What can you do as an individual? Can you seek guidance from someone, set personal boundaries, or in another way modify your actions/behavior?
5) What can you do in coordination with the other individual or party? If at all possible, a face-to-face conversation (not debate) is helpful. To facilitate a smoother conversation, a 3rd party mediator can greatly assist. It is often helpful for the mediator to meet with each side first. These can be professional mediators or someone that both sides can trust. If you are alone on ‘your side’, find someone who can be with you to lend support to provide extra confidence as well as constructive comments. Rely on your earlier articulated statements and questions. Also, ask as many clarifying questions as possible, while also clearly expressing your feelings and views. And the hardest part? Avoid being defensive.
6) Where do you go from here? Articulate a plan. You may not get the resolution you want, however time will move forward. Determine what you can live with and what you can’t, and take the steps that are necessary for at least a compromise to your ideal solution. This compromise may require you to remove yourself (or others) from the situation.
I pray that these tips are helpful. I have had personal experience using them and have seen others do the same. Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, however proceeding with a plan is often better than just seeing what happens!
God is with you and will continue with you on your journey! Perhaps there are a few valleys in the future, but to have valleys, there must be mountains!
Gracious God, be with all those in the midst of disagreements – whatever they may be. Life is difficult, but Lord you have provided us with means to move forward. Amen.
Other thoughts on conflict resolution from The Committed Parent:
Grappling with the Unholy Trinity: Chaos, Confusion and Conflict
This may also give you some ideas:
Seeking to be Faithful Together: Guidelines for Presbyterians During Times of Disagreement