Authored by Dia
I once worked with a young man whom I had little in common with. He had a strong personality, was opinionated, and many of his reactions blew me away. Our points of view were often in conflict. Seeing as we were co-workers, I knew that I had to work through my problems with him. The difficulty was that I don’t like confrontation. When I experience confrontation with someone, I almost always want to avoid them.
So how could I go from avoiding conflict, and consequently avoiding this co-worker, to a place where I could communicate with him effectively and respect him and the value he added to our workplace?
The main thing I had to get past was my perspective on conflict and confrontation. When I think of the word conflict, I think of countries locked in some kind of cold war or even combat. It sounds serious and threatening. However, not all conflict is bad. Sometimes friction is what it takes for the spark of a great idea to burst into flames.
Conflicts generally arise from differences—differences in opinion, differences in beliefs, differences in experience, differences in personalities. But you can also experience conflict with people whom you have a lot in common with, as each individual has a unique personality and characteristics. Conflict, however, can be reframed, accepted, and dealt with so that it becomes positive rather than negative. How does one do that? Here are a few things I’ve learned:
* What is or isn’t confrontational is different for each individual. For example, if I were to bluntly criticize someone’s new idea, I would feel that I am being unkind, rude, and nitpicky. So if someone points out the downsides of my new ideas, this is how I am more apt to view them—as being unkind, rude, and nitpicky. However, that person could have a totally different viewpoint on this action. Maybe to them pointing out the cons to an idea is their way of offering constructive criticism so someone’s idea can become more efficient. Realizing this difference in perspective could help you to deal with the situation better.
* When I’m having difficulties with someone, I take time to try to understand where they’re coming from and to think about their good qualities. Everybody has something that they are good at, or something that they can be appreciated for. Reminding yourself of that can give you a much more positive attitude toward that person. There are many solutions to a single problem, so we need to be creative and employ positive and patient methods, as well as adopt a give-and-take attitude in order to resolve conflicts with others.
* Another thing I’ve had to learn to do in confrontational situations is recognize and manage my emotions. When I sense that I’m getting upset or emotional, I consciously try to calm down and to think about what I want to say and to say it without too much emotion attached. I also try to pay attention to what the other person is trying to express, and respond to that, even if the words they use or the way they say things is rough or rubs me the wrong way.
Of course, sometimes one will encounter serious conflict where listening and understanding isn’t enough. In situations where the conflict is way out of hand and no one is willing to back down or give, then giving it space and time may ease the tension. I’m not a proponent of pretending problems don’t exist, but when you’re overwhelmed by feelings of anger or hurt, it isn’t always the best moment to try to resolve conflict. If you give it a few hours or maybe days or even weeks, you’ll hopefully be calmer and have more perspective and be able to handle the situation better.
The Bible also has quality counsel on how to respond to conflict and even how to avoid it altogether.
Proverbs 15:1 tells us that a gentle answer deflects anger, whereas harsh words stir up anger.
James 1:19 says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”1 And it certainly takes humility and openness to be more eager to listen to someone’s point of view than to speak our mind or to react in the heat of the moment!
Ephesians 4:31–32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”2
The good news is that I eventually got to a place where I had respect for my co-worker and understood him better. I still dislike conflict and confrontation, but I came to the point where I was able to effectively communicate and work with him, and even appreciate his strengths.
I have discovered in life that it’s good to have people in my circle who aren’t just like me, who don’t always see things my way, or who have opinions or viewpoints that are opposed to mine. This type of friction helps me to grow—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I believe that through it I’ve developed “thicker skin,” to where I don’t take things so personally and I’m able to see the upside to conflict.
We’re always going to have differences with people and it will sometimes lead to conflict. What we must work on changing is not the people whom we consider difficult but our attitude toward them. Choose to look at conflict resolution as an art, something that can be learned, a skill that can be developed with time and effort. With practice, one could become a master of this art, and endeavors to apply it would be met with rewarding results.
Over and above all, the ultimate solution to any conflict is love. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”3
I read a quote by Emmet Fox that left me with a large amount of hope, because it showed that with enough love, one can deal with any conflict or difference in opinion. It says:
“There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer. No disease that enough love will not heal. No door that enough love will not open. No gulf that enough love will not bridge. No wall that enough love will not throw down. No sin that enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated the difficulty may be, how hopeless the outlook, how muddied the tangle, how great the mistake. Sufficient love will dissolve it all!”
1 New International Version.
2 New International Version.
3 1 Corinthians 13:4–5 NIV.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright © 2012 by The Family International