Conflict is universal and a natural part of life where people and relationships are involved. Understanding the difference between inner, interpersonal, and organizational conflict and separating people from organizational issues is vital.
1. Inner conflict without resolution can act out in different ways. This can affect family relationships and job performance as well as attitude in ministering and witnessing.
2. Dealing effectively with conflicts involving interpersonal relationships requires moving beyond immediate tensions and disagreements and identifying the root causes.
3. Miscommunication or lack of communication is often the root cause of most disagreements. Getting the parties to talk may resolve the conflict or misunderstanding.
4. If the conflict is deeper than mere communication, a neutral, third party may be needed to assist in negotiating resolution. This person can help identify issues, find common ground, and deal with deeper issues.
5. In dealing with organizational conflict, the issues need to be identified before resolution can begin to take place. Both hidden and surface issues must be addressed.
Avoiding. Sometimes the best approach is to ignore the situation. Some situations are best left alone. Even if you are right, you often lose. The battle may simply not be worth the cost. Getting involved will sometimes escalate the disagreement into a major conflict. Learn when it is best to walk away.
Avoiding blaming. "Blamestorming" is a popular sport today. Pointing a finger and placing blame on others is easy. More difficult is extending one's hand in a move toward reconciliation.
Accommodating. Hoping to preserve a relationship at all costs, some people automatically give in to the wishes of others. This is appropriate when the issues are unimportant compared to the value of the relationship or when the accommodating person feels that he or she is in the wrong. In other instances accommodating may give others a sense of vindication, even when they are wrong, which might lead to further conflict. The relationship may begin to feel burdensome, which can result in feelings of frustration and resentment. After repeated accommodations and continued conflict, another approach is needed.
Compromising. Sometimes issues are too complex for involved parties to resolve. A mediator can help those involved to bring issues to the surface, while being sensitive to feelings involved. The goal is to have the parties work together to find mutually satisfactory solutions.
Negotiating. The situation may necessitate bringing in a neutral, third party to help adversaries work through the issues. The tension level may be too high for the parties to talk without strong emotions. The neutral party can listen, help them talk through the issues, and help them become aware of ways to resolve the conflict.
Forcing. After listening to the issues and working past any form of resolution, a mediator seeks to explore all possible solutions. The mediator has no power to impose them on the conflicting parties. Those in disagreement can be asked to accept a solution and to agree to work together. Paul said that love is the greatest gift (see 1 Cor. 13). Ultimately the best solutions to any conflict are love and forgiveness.
Adapted from Richard Paling, "Managing Conflict Before It Manages You," Church Administration, November 1996, pp. 10-12. Pablo Sanchez writes from El Paso, Texas.