4. Be specific. When you are telling someone what is wrong you have to be specific. Give a couple of examples. "I feel hurt when you criticize me in front of our friends. You did it last night when we had Bill and Janie over, and you did it last week when Mike and Beth were here." Being specific helps make the conflict objective. If you don't give examples the person will simply make it a difference of opinion. "I feel hurt when you criticize me in front of our friends." "I don't criticize you in front of our friends." "Yes, you do." "No I don't." That's not going anywhere. Also, avoid the word always. "You always criticize me in front of our friends." In all likelihood, they don't always do it. If there was one time in history that they didn't, they will spend all their energy looking for that one time to prove you wrong ... instead of listening to what you are saying.
5. Balance grace and truth. Generally, I'm too sappy in a conflict. Even if you are totally wrong, I'll tend to let you off the hook and probably do all the apologizing. I put too much mushy grace into my conflicts. On the other hand, some people are like marine drill sergeants. They won't let it go until you've confessed, repented and done 100 push ups as a consequence. Those people are all truth, and they aren't fun people to have a conflict with. The answer is the right balance of both grace and truth. I need to be kind without letting you off the hook. I need to require you to take responsibility for your behavior but still let you know that I care about you.
6. Know what you need. What's it going to take to make this right? If it was something relatively minor, maybe all you need is an apology. If it was something huge, maybe you are going to need them to get professional help.
Only you know what you need to repair the relationship. But don't skip this step. Suppose they apologize, but later you decide that wasn't enough. Now you go back and have the conflict again. "I've already apologized," they say. "But that didn't do it for me," you reply. Uh, that isn't going to go well. Before you enter the conflict decide, in advance, what it is going to take to make things right.
7. Forgive. Finally, forgive. Sounds easy and obvious right. Well, try doing it some time. Or, even worse, try resolving a conflict without it. Forgiveness is a choice that we make to let it go. It let's them off the hook.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation requires that they have taken responsibility for their actions and are changing their behavior. It requires two people. Forgiveness only requires one—you. This step isn't really about them. It is about you. Regardless of their response, you've done what you could. Now its time to move on. Forgive them ... unforgiveness only keeps you a prisoner.
Conflict can be tough, and the topic could fill a whole book not just a blog entry. But these seven steps are a great place to start. Next time you have to address a problem, put them into practice. If you do, you may be surprised to find that you just had a good conflict.
Ryan Hobbs has been a teacher, pastor and church planter, with a master's degree in counseling. He has an eclectic ministry background that has led to a passion for practical discipleship. Check out his blog Practical Devotion for daily insights into putting Jesus into real life.
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