May 27, 2020

2 steps to managing conflict

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Healthy key relationships don’t just happen. They are built over time, flowing out of a healthy well-being, with intentional interactions to develop relationships. In three blogs we have have explored the following builders of healthy key relationships.

Today we explore the fourth builder: healthy conflict management.

Two steps to healthy conflict management

A young man called this week. I didn’t know him but he needed some help. He had become very angry with a member of his extended family and was, understandably, boiling. He perceived he had done his best and was being unjustly treated. “What do I do?” he asked. My advice was “Take a breath, go for a walk, get calm and then go and talk with them.” He texted back that evening, “All is resolved. Thank you for your help.”

Regulate your own emotions

The first step to prepare for confrontation is to regulate your own emotions. Your emotions have an effect on others. Emotions rub off—they are transferred, caught like a virus. If this young man had gone to sort it out while angry, his anger would have spilled over, and things would have got loud, more strained and probably not ended with reconciliation. To regulate emotions, give yourself some space to let them settle, for you to understand them and control them so they don’t hijack the outcome.

Confront the issue not the person

The second step that emotionally healthy leaders and people take is to actually confront without giving in. Of course if you are in the wrong, please acknowledge and accept responsibility. There are times when wisdom says let it go. However the principle is confrontation is a necessary part of healthly relationships. Healthy leaders carefully articulate their concerns having wisely set the time and place. They don’t make it personal when it’s not and neither are they aggressive in the confrontation.
They are able to express “I need” and “I feel” and work for resolve. It takes good emotional well-being to be assertive like this.

It takes courage to resolve conflict, as you don’t know how it is going to work out. Some do not handle conflict well because they are prone to taking things personally. If you do, you will often clam up or become defensive and retaliate. It took me some reorientation to realise that confrontation to resolve difficulties is key to building connections.
Confrontation is similar to the discipline of children, which is not about inflicting punishment but about bringing change that enhances relationships.

Reflection: Do you express your needs and feelings well?

Be courageous and don’t avoid conflict, face it and learn how.
I used to avoid conflict. This was so unhelpful as a leader of a church. In fact, it was unhelpful for any relationship or leadership role. My stance was rationalised by thinking that not confronting is more loving. But it is not. Genuine care calls people to change even when this call may not be received well.

I had not learned to confront effectively. Early on I had experienced some people who when confronted would explode. In thinking this was normal, I refrained from confrontation, not wanting them to emotionally vomit on me. Now I see that they were emotionally unwell.

Don’t take it personally – it’s probably not

As a lead pastor I could not avoid confrontation completely. Sometimes people got disgruntled and, in announcing their departure, would come with their complaints. Because I took the confrontation personally, I would clam up and not express my own needs or feelings. After all, they were rejecting me and believed I was to blame for their unhappiness .
In the journey from burnout to health, my mentors helped me develop self-confidence and self-value. I rebuilt robustness and resilience and gained strength to begin to learn to confront. One key step was to develop assertiveness and so be able to express what I feel and I need.

Don’t make it personal

Another key step is not to make your confrontation personal. It’s like parenting where you call out the behaviour not the person. You don’t say, “You are a bad boy for hitting your sister.” You say, “Hitting your sister is wrong. We don’t do that. Here is your consequence.”

Healthy leaders engage in healthy confrontation to build enduring, robust relationships[ Adrienne Easton 18/5/20, 4:38 pm I have consolidated this paragraph into one sentence. It actually is very much like the next sentence so you may want to streamline further. ].

Here is the benchmark—healthy Christian leaders manage conflict well. They seek understanding, focus on the issues not the person, and assertively express without aggression.


  • Do I avoid conflict?
  • Do I make/take conflict personally?

Who can help you navigate conflict?

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