Conflict Resolution: What Do I Do Afterward?
The final post in this series addresses what to do after an attempt at conflict resolution. How can a relationship survive? What attitude do we need to have?
So after deciding to talk with someone about an offense or destructive behavior, and then going through with the meeting, it’s all over, right? Well, not quite. Even if it seems like it went well, that doesn’t always mean it did go well. Also, conflict-resolution discussions that absolutely did not go well are unlikely to disappear from memory any time soon.
We want our relationships to survive, and whether they do often depends on what happens afterward. As with before and during conflict, the Bible offers perspective about what to do after conflict.
As Jesus Christ was dying at the hands of unrepentant offenders, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
In Galatians 6:1 the apostle Paul wrote: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
Psalm 147:3 states how God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
These scriptures identify several actions needed after a meeting: healing, forgiveness, binding up wounds and restoration.
So, about yesterday …
Unless there was a mutually agreed upon forgiving and forgetting, pretending a confrontation never happened is not a good idea. This will usually lead to gossip, grudges, bitterness and other problems. Relationships survive on openness and communication. Here are some ideas:
- We should attempt to show the offender that we are not taking things personally and that we value the relationship. We should keep having conversations and not avoid the person for long periods of time.
- We should ask for forgiveness for any parts of the discussion that we did not handle properly. This can be a conversation starter that begins with humility and cuts through some awkwardness of how to transition from confrontation back to normal.
- We should be honest and open in the relationship from now on. It is much easier to become a “victim” and complain to others about offenses, but it takes work and awkward but necessary conversations to truly improve and sustain relationships. A cultivated relationship has more frank conversations and fewer fragile confrontations over time.
Three things to remember after saying something
1. People have to want to change with God’s help.
Many times attempts at conflict resolution (either major or minor) will lead to no change at all. Counselors constantly remind us that we cannot change other people, nor is it our job to. As the old saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” But we do have control over our own behavior and reaction to others.
It is important to remember that God takes time with every one of us to help us come to know Him and change our lives for the better. Sometimes we, too, have to be patient and give people time to change.
The future is always a better subject of meditation than dwelling on mistakes of the past. 2. As Christians we are for one another, not against one another.
The counseling concept of blending (minimizing perceived differences between ourselves and others in conflict) is based on the thinking that people don’t like listening or cooperating with someone they perceive is against them. After a confrontation, and definitely during one, it is critical that we let the offender know through actions and words that we are not against him or her—but are on his or her side.
We should never make the other person feel like we are “out to get” him or her. This would be totally opposite the attitude that Christ expects from His followers. So, after the resolution of the problem, we must forgive and forget. If the meeting resulted in resistance and refusal to change, we just have to commit to dwelling with the person in peace and relying on our good example as a tool to hopefully someday heal the relationship.
3. Always be looking to the future, yet informed by the past.
The future is always a better subject of meditation than dwelling on mistakes of the past. Difficult people make a choice about how they behave, whether due to years of success in getting their way or having their behavior reinforced without our realizing it. We also make a choice about how we proceed after a conflict-resolution attempt—will we continue to react to him or her positively or negatively?
Past conflicts, especially those that are unresolved, should inform our future with that person—but not predetermine or destroy our future with him or her.
Love is the difference
Christian conflict resolution—whether it is deciding on whether to say something, what we say during a meeting or what we do afterward—all depends on love. We have to love the person who committed the offense enough to possibly have a difficult conversation with him or her to save the relationship or curb a destructive behavior. We also have to love God enough to put the situation into His hands and ask for His help every step of the way.
Remember this the next time difficult situations, destructive sins and offenses appear in your life—because they do and they will.
For more insights into resolving conflict, read “Seven Keys to Better Relationships.”