Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Great Challenge of Dealing with Conflict: 5 Styles of Conflict Resolution

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Conflict in relationships, conflict in family, and conflict in churches are terribly difficult things to deal with. I myself have struggled a great deal in responding to conflicts and disagreements in a healthy manner.  This is a tough challenge for my generation.  We tend to want to flee, and run for the hills when conflict dares to intrude upon us.  But running is not always the wisest response to difficult conflicts.  Many times, there are better responses and better ways to deal with inevitable conflict.

The first thing we should recognize about conflict is that it is 100% normal.  We tend to file it under "abnormal" but the fact is, in any community conflict is going to be a part of our interactions.  In any relationship we will tend to have to deal with some sort of conflict from time to time.  There isn't anything wrong with that.  It's simply a part of relationship.  But let's not kid ourselves, conflict is quite awful.  It feels terrribly yucky and for me especially, I simply can't stand conflict.  I'd almost rather disappear completely than have to deal with a conflict.

So how can we deal with conflict in a healthy way?  Conflict is normal.  In fact, conflict is healthy.  Conflict is not fun though.  Think about when the boss calls you into the office and says those fateful words "We have to talk."  It's harder for us to run to the hills when it's our job that is on the line.  We have to stay and deal with the consequences then.  

We should have the same attitude in our personal relationships, and in our church community relations.  It can seem much easier and more convenient to simply start over.  That is what I often did in the past.  I would just start over, throw up my hands and say "I'm done."  But that isn't always the wisest thing to do.  

Don't get me wrong, there may be times when it is necessary to leave and start over in a new situation.  But we should strive to limit those to the most extreme circumstances.  

What are some extreme circumstances that would require us to unabashedly depart from a situation?  Well, one example would be if my group of friends are using drugs regularly.  That is something I simply have no interest being around.  It's a dangerous influence to me, and I'm being foolish if I think I can successfully sit in the barber-shop as it were and not get a hair cut.  

Another situation would be if my boss and/or coworkers are asking me to violate my conscience, or violate the law.  If it's coworkers, then I should go to my boss, or my bosses boss first.  If it's my boss, then I'm left with little options.  I would make sure I've exhausted every means of dealing with the issue, and if nothing seemed to work, then I would depart.

Still another example would be if my spouse were habitually abusive.  That is a situation where fleeing is probably quite wise.  

In a church situation, if the church leadership are teaching false doctrine, abusing children, or teaching things not contained in the Bible, I would need to address that situation directly.  I would need to attempt to sit down and discuss the situation with leaders face to face.  If all attempts to remedy the situation failed, only then should I leave.  

But most situations we face are not this extreme.  In most situations, we have options and there are ways to resolve most conflicts.  For the longest time I didn't think so.  In my family of origin, I had relationships where conflict was perpetual.  And attempting to resolve those conflicts was an exercise in futility.  The person I was attempting resolution with would simply use the negotiations to push their own agenda.  But the person would never, ever offer any sort of real compromise.  So I learned as I grew up, to simply give in, because I knew resolving the conflict was impossible, I knew I would just be forced to do whatever they wanted anyway.  This led to me wanting to avoid conflict at all costs.  

There are several common methods that people use when entering into conflict in relationships.  Often these methods come from what they learned from their family of origin.  The style I tend heavily toward is obviously the avoidant style.  I see conflict through the eyes of childhood, that conflict resolution is an exercise in futility, and the best option is to avoid conflict at all costs or cede to all the demands of the conflict instigator to maintain (at least the appearance of) peace. 

What is your conflict style?  Let's look at the various common methods.

1. Avoidant - just like it sounds, avoid conflict at all costs. Hide feelings and emotions to try and keep the peace.  This tends to cause built up stress, which leads to depression, and relational instability. This style often comes from a dysfunctional family of origin where feelings were hidden, or conflicts were never resolved.  Not a wise way to deal with conflict.

2. Argumentative - this style tends to want to fight it out. They are more used to arguing it out.  Their family of origin tended to be louder, and more up front about emotions.  This style can be healthy in that both sides are attempting to get everything out and find a resolution.  This style can also be unhealthy in that often the argumentative type may even enjoy conflict, triggering them for the enjoyment of it.  Not a healthy way to deal with conflict either.

3. Rage - This style attempts to use force to deal with conflict.  They argue, they push for their way, and they tend to resist compromise. This style at it's worst can be physically abusive, though often also emotionally abusive.

4. Manipulative - This style may seem more like the argumentative style in that they look to argue and talk and try to resolve the issue, but there is an agenda behind this.  The manipulative style rejects all forms of compromise and pushes for their own way. If the person resists, they attempt new arguments and broken record style pushing of their view.  They tend to use passive aggressive attacks and shaming.  Not a healthy style.

5. Assertive - The assertive style knows when to walk away from a conflict and when to resolve a conflict. They express their anger in a healthy way, without letting things go too far.  They are able to compromise, but also able to stand by their core convictions when necessary.  This is a healthy style of conflict resolution.

As you consider how you can deal with conflict in healthier ways, remember to always be prayerful in your approach to conflicts.  Conflicts can be very difficult and emotional.  Remember to pray before entering into discussion.  Remember to pray during discussion if you feel yourself getting out of control.  And try to be brave, even though your afraid or upset.  I encourage you to remember that conflicts can be resolved in healthy ways.  It's not always fun or easy, in fact it's often quite difficult.  But the long term rewards of working out conflicts and building long term relationships outweigh the costs of healthy conflict resolution.

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