Conflict seems to be escalating in every arena of society — from the home to the workplace, from interpersonal disputes to culture at large. Today, leaders have to work hard to protect unity and navigate conflict successfully.
Unfortunately, while conflict resolution is essential, sometimes it gets hijacked by a leader’s impatience, poor judgment, or inability to steer through the tensions. Even worse, some leaders avoid conflict altogether. As a result, conflict can easily mushroom and multiply.
That’s why our approach to conflict resolution is so important. The approach is predictive of the outcome. It sets you up for success or lays the groundwork for failure. If you’re going to lead to a place of resolution and restoration, start your conflict resolution efforts with these four approaches:
1. Speed Over Convenience
Unresolved conflict never goes away on its own. Instead, it festers and grows bigger when we fail to address it. The problem is, we usually only address conflict when it’s easy to resolve or it has turned into a full-blown crisis. When conflict is somewhere in the middle, we tend to ignore it.
Why? Because conflict resolution is never convenient. It’s never easy or desirable. But failure to address it is an abdication of leadership. That’s why it’s so important to choose speed over convenience.
We have to address conflict quickly so it doesn’t morph and multiply. Without intervention, conflict will disrupt unity, halt progress, and undermine our churches and organizations.
Here’s another way to think about it. If someone lit a match and dropped it on the carpet in your living room, you would immediately put it out. If you didn’t, the entire house could burn to the ground. But too often, we take a different approach when the match of conflict is lit. Rather than putting it out quickly, we let it smolder, burn, and cause unnecessary damage.
It may not be convenient to stop what you’re doing, pick up the match, and put it out. But it’s also not convenient to clean up the mess that remains when things burn to the ground. The lesson is clear: Conflict resolution requires immediate action.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” In other words, if you have the ability to influence peace, do it. You’re responsible for what is possible. When you see conflict arise, don’t let the small flame become a raging fire. Choose speed over convenience.
2. Relationships Over Rights
One of the biggest challenges we face in conflict resolution is that we let our value for being right overshadow our value for the relationship. As a result, we focus too much on making our point at the expense of ministering to people.
When you see conflict arise, don’t let the small flame become a raging fire.
Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” What do these sins have in common? They all disrupt and destroy relationships. They all focus on my supposed rights — my right to hold a grudge, lash out in anger, and slander others. The problem is, that approach only perpetuates conflict. And we see plenty of it in our world today.
But Paul continues with some great wisdom: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (verse 32). People require patience, and people are more important than your position. If we elevate our position over people, we generally succumb to spiritual pride.
Choose the relationship over your rights. This will require a spirit of humility, but it will produce long-lasting results. Besides, people matter, and Jesus had a lot to say about loving our neighbor.
3. Clarity Over Confusion
Much of the conflict we experience is caused or perpetuated by confusion over an issue. “He said this” and “she said that” can create an endless cycle of frustration and miscommunication. If we were disciplined enough to sit down and talk, we’d gain clarity on the issue and put an end to the confusion.
Acts 15 provides a great model for us. In this passage, a conflict arises between Paul, Barnabas, and a group of men from Judea over whether Gentiles should be circumcised.
As you read the entirety of the story, you discover a practical roadmap for gaining clarity and resolving conflict. The Acts 15 model involved hearing both sides of the story, engaging in discussion, sticking to the facts, and articulating a responsible and Spirit-led solution. Rather than ignoring the issue, they tackled it head-on and came to a place of resolution.
Choosing clarity over confusion will help you break the cycle of dysfunction. Rather than letting things continue in a state of chaos, your commitment to clarity will open the door to addressing the issue, acknowledging feelings, increasing understanding, and determining appropriate next steps.
4. Communication Over Assumption
Miscommunication, or a lack of communication, is one of the biggest frustrations in organizations. If a conflict affects multiple people, a department, or the entire organization, you can’t assume everyone knows if — or how — the conflict was resolved. You have to put together a communication strategy.
That’s how the Acts 15 model concludes. Once a solution to the conflict was clarified, a letter was delivered to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. The letter communicated a clear solution to the issue. Acts 15:31 says, “The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message.”
If you do the hard work of resolving a conflict, be sure to communicate with the appropriate parties to ensure preconceived assumptions don’t undermine your progress.
Conflict resolution isn’t easy, but these four approaches will help you start and end with the right posture and the best opportunity for resolution. It all starts with embracing your responsibility to address conflict, and then approaching it in a healthy, biblical manner.