Dealing with conflict
Conflict is natural and simply a part of the territory of life.
It can be seen as a disagreement between interdependent people, the perception of incompatible or mutually exclusive needs or goals. It is said that conflict equals difference plus tension.
If there is a need to accept the reality of conflict as a part of our church life, we need to be better equipped. Rather than denying its existence, our challenge is how to address conflict and to see the potential to positively transform our relationships, our churches and communities. We cannot always choose the conflicts that come into our lives, but we can choose how to respond.
To equip ourselves:
- Be aware of differing perspectives
All too easily we fall into the trap of thinking I am right and you are wrong. Our language resonates blame. The reality is that we will only see things from our perspective, the other will have their perspective and in a large group there will be multiple perspectives. Be curious to discover the other’s perspective.
- Be aware of our own ‘baggage’
We may be carrying fears, hurts and humiliations from past experiences into the present and influencing present circumstances. We need to heighten our self-awareness and recognise that others will be carrying their own ‘baggage’.
- Be aware of the need to listen more than to speak
We need to practice the art of active listening, suspending our own assumptions and desire to get our point across. By listening, we will seek to understand others, irrespective of whether we agree with them or not. Listening in this way requires our undivided attention, using our ears and our eyes. We seek to understand and empathise with our heart.
- Be aware of the need to find common ground
All too often conflict escalates when motivated by a desire to win, resulting in a win/lose outcome but more likely a lose/lose. As we seek to listen to understand, we move from positional arguments to a shared desire to discover the needs and interests from each other, often resulting in identifying what is shared and valued in common.
- Be aware of the need for face to face dialogue
All too often disagreements escalate as those involved do not sit down and find a safe space to talk with one another. Car park conversations perpetuate the conflict and the increasing use of emails and social media will all too readily escalate the conflict and heighten misunderstandings and fears. It is in the coming together in a respectful manner, valuing the person, that we are able to hear each other’s stories.
- Be aware of the need to forgive
When in conflict, feeling hurt, loss and pain, we can choose to harm and retaliate. Alternatively, we can choose to heal, tell our story, name the hurt and offer forgiveness and experience the renewal or release of the relationship. Forgiveness is a release, a gift to yourself and your future.
Further reading and resources
- Making Peace with Conflict ; Carolyn Schrock – Shenk and Lawrence Ressle , 1999, Harald Press , PA
- Nonviolent Communication ; Marshall B Rosenberg , 2003, Puddle Danson Press
- Good Disagreement ? Grace and Truth in a Divided Church ; Andrew Atherstone and Andrew Goddard , 2015 Lion Hudson.The Book of Forgiving . Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu . 2014 William Collins
- Growing through Conflict’ course by Place for Hope