Conflict Resolution: Should I Say Something?
This post begins a three-part series on conflict resolution. When should we let something go, and when should we take on direct confrontation?
Have you ever offended someone? You’re not alone. Even though sometimes it seems like some people take pleasure in offending others, in general, most people try to avoid doing it. But still it happens—often!
Left unchecked, offense can lead to bitterness, gossip, grudges and anger that can last for a long time. The Bible warns us to avoid offending others. Consider these scriptures:
- In Matthew 18:7 Jesus said: “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
- In 1 Corinthians 10:32 Paul wrote: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God.”
- In Proverbs 18:19 King Solomon mused: “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a castle.”
The point comes through clearly: Try hard not to offend others. Yet we still offend others, and we have been offended by others—probably too many times to count. It happens, and we need to be ready when it does.
So, imagine being offended. This can happen directly, through a comment or action, or indirectly, through a bad example or behavior that hurts people we care about.
Here are some examples:
- Someone makes a blatantly rude public comment at our expense.
- Someone makes an agreement with us and then shows no interest in fulfilling that agreement.
- Someone is constantly demonstrating characteristics of a difficult person: behaviors that contradict godly love, as well as the other fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), with no indication of having a desire to change.
- Someone is harming us, himself or others we care about through sinful and destructive behavior, attitudes or speech.
So, again, imagine we’ve been offended, either directly or indirectly. Now what? Thankfully the Bible gives us guidance on the big question: “Do I say something or not?”
Though there are many routes to take, conflict needs to be dealt with one way or another to avoid bitterness and broken relationships. Three things to remember before saying something
1. The person committing the offense is not perfect, and neither are we.
The first step in deciding whether to say something is to completely destroy any “holier than thou” attitude that might build in our minds due to the offense. King Solomon put the fallacy of that thinking on trial by saying:
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others” (Ecclesiastes 7:20-22).
With the majority of small offenses, the best response is usually simply to forgive the offense, recognize we have similarly offended others and bear with the other person in love (Ephesians 4:2).
2. Prayer and example can often be more powerful than words.
Modern society often praises outbursts of wrath and “telling someone off” rather than the powerful tools of prayer and personal example. Many situations require God’s intervention for there to be any chance of change. Many of us can hear correction from others until they are blue in the face, but if God is not involved in changing our hearts, it changes nothing. This is where prayer comes in.
A positive personal example may also be called for instead of direct confrontation. In 1 Timothy 4:12 the apostle Paul told Timothy to be an example to others “in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Treating a person who has mistreated us with love and kindness can often be the key to resolving a conflict.
3. Our motive must be to help the person.
We have to carefully examine our motives for confronting someone before we go through with it. Ask several questions:
- Do I really want to help this person and the people being affected by his or her behavior?
- Do I legitimately want to heal the relationship, or am I just looking for justice or vindication?
- Do I just want to be right? If our only motive is to be right, then we are likely to make the conflict worse through our reaction.
Our motives for confronting should come from pure, godly love and a desire to rebuild the relationship (Ephesians 4:29).
Sometimes a confrontation is necessary
Though there are many routes to take, as seen above, conflict needs to be dealt with one way or another to avoid bitterness and broken relationships. Therefore, sometimes we have to say something. The next post will cover that very delicate exercise (see “Conflict Resolution: How Do I Say Something?”).
For more insights into resolving conflict, read “Seven Keys to Better Relationships.”