Conflict Resolution: How Do I Say Something?
The second post in this series focuses on what to do when it becomes necessary to talk to someone about his or her behavior or an offense.
Our last post discussed the realities of offending and being offended, as well as some points to consider before deciding to discuss an issue with someone. Sometimes openly addressing a problem with someone cannot and should not be avoided. It is imperative, however, that it be done in a godly way. If it is a hostile confrontation done according to Hollywood scripts and unbiblical advice, the situation could get even worse, with relationships destroyed and grudges multiplied.
Thankfully, the Bible gives very relevant advice on this topic:
- In Matthew 18:15 Jesus Christ said: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”
- In Jude 1:22-23 Jesus’ half-brother Jude wrote: “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.”
- In Proverbs 27:17 King Solomon wrote: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” In Proverbs 27:6 he wrote: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.”
The main point is that when there is a serious conflict, it is important to approach the other person about it in the right way.
Going to one’s brother
God knew that offenses and poor behaviors would sometimes rise to such a level that they would need to be dealt with. But what should such a conversation be like?
Attempts at conflict resolution or delivering correction should not be:
- Telling everyone else about the situation or problem, except the offender.
- A public “call out” of injustices and offenses in front of friends and family.
- A tongue-thrashing, voice-raising, never-ending verbal assault.
- A flattering and confusing platitude that doesn’t even get near the point.
Conflict resolution or delivering correction should be:
- A calm and respectful conversation, depending on godly wisdom (James 3:17).
- Direct and to the point, without subjective and inflammatory wording like “always, never, everyone.”
- Private, with only two people present: you and the offender. More people can get involved later if the offender refuses to listen (Matthew 18:16).
So let’s now imagine that the time has come for the discussion. Through prayer and godly discernment, we have concluded that something definitely needs to be said. How do we do this?
When expressing our issue, we should try to talk slowly, with pauses so that the other person can process what we are saying. Three things to remember when saying something
1. Two humans are present, but Someone else is too.
When we open our mouths to resolve a disagreement or gently correct or tactfully advise someone, God is watching and listening. He can see the motives behind the words we say.
God is pleased when someone prayerfully considers what will be said during a meeting and then delivers the (sometimes painful) truth with tact and love. While this should give us an extra dose of caution and restraint, it should also give us a big shot of encouragement and relief that God is there to help—if we seek Him in prayer about the situation.
2. Humility and concern are better received than self-righteousness.
When we do say something, it goes miles to ease the tension of the situation if we remember that we, too, are weak and have made mistakes (Psalm 103:14; Romans 3:23). Using phrases like “I understand why you might …” or “I appreciate the importance of …” before delivering the perspective that the person needs to hear can help soften the blow. It can let them know that we are not looking down on them.
Some wrongly take the fact that we all sin and have weaknesses to mean that we should never “judge” someone or approach them about their behavior, lest we be hypocrites. Christ taught the concept of removing the plank from our own eyes before trying to take the speck out of another’s eyes (Matthew 7:5). This is not an excuse to avoid necessary conversations about poor behavior, but rather a guide and warning that the bigger issue to be addressed is always with ourselves. When offenders see we know that and aren’t downplaying our own weaknesses, it is hard for them to doubt our sincerity.
3. Allow time for cooling down, self-reflection and processing within the conversation.
Modern counseling often laments how society has no room for pausing and thinking during conversations. People often need time to cool down during and after these kinds of exchanges. If the offender is on a tirade or not listening, interrupting by calmly saying the person’s name with our hands up may let the person know we are wanting to stay on point.
It is often wise to wait five seconds before responding to something the offender has said. When expressing our issue, we should try to talk slowly, with pauses so that the other person can process what we are saying. This is not a time for conversation domination, with long and thorough descriptions of how he or she is wrong and we are right. Talking the most might make us feel like the winner, but it probably won’t help the situation and can make the other person feel unfairly scolded. This will not heal the relationship.
There will be consequences
When going to a brother (or sister) becomes necessary, we hope for positive outcomes and strengthened relationships, but we also realize that how we handle the situation will play a big part in what happens afterward. The final post in this series will discuss how to nurture positive outcomes after going to someone to discuss a serious matter (see “Conflict Resolution: What Do I Do Afterward?”).
Read Part 1 of this series at “Conflict Resolution: Should I Say Something?”
For more insights into resolving conflict, read “Seven Keys to Better Relationships.”