A Time to Fight

A Time to Fight

Expert advice on engaging conflict in your small group

Most groups and teams acknowledge the need for conflict resolution and truth-telling. But fewer actually engage in a process that will produce the results they desire.

The word confront in Latin means to "turn your face toward" something or someone. When we enter the process of relational conflict engagement, we are confronting the reality that things are not going well and we need to face it, name it, and work through it.

Here are some key steps.

Conflict Preparation

Preparing for conflict is as essential as the process itself.

  • Prayer. Ask for guidance, and see if your heart is right toward this. How much of this is about you? How much did you contribute? What do you need to own? Ask for a spirit of humility, courage, and the ability to listen well.
  • Emotional preparation. Attend to your feelings and prepare the other person for the conversation. Let them know that this will be a difficult conversation so that they are not caught off guard.

Conflict Initiation

When should we engage in such conversations? When we have sin to confront (Matthew 18:15-17) and we have been wronged and there is damage done to the relationship, we are commanded to sit down and begin the conversation. Most major conflicts and relational breakdowns occur because people do not sit down and have a conversation, which means it all goes underground. And if there is a relational rift (Matthew 5: 23-24) Christ commands us to reconcile it before we offer our worship.

Conflict Navigation

Here are the steps you can take to begin moving toward reconciliation:

  • Start soon. Waiting only drives the problem underground. Even if you have to do a phone call or quick email, let the person know you need to talk. The longer you wait, the harder it is to confront and the more the anger builds.
  • Meet face to face. Never engage in conflict through social media. Granted, you might have to Skype if the person is living far away. But voices and facial expressions communicate so much that you cannot see or feel with text alone.
  • Affirm the relationship. Let the other(s) know they matter to you and to the team/group, and that's why you need to deal with this. The relationship matters, the mission matters, and people matter. Genuinely remind them why they matter to you and why you felt the need to have this interaction.
  • Make observations, not accusations. "I felt … I heard you say … My understanding of what happened is …" are all better than "You liar!" By naming the reality you experienced, you keep the conversation about the facts and feelings, not the person's core identity.
  • Get the facts. Listen. After you have made your brief, clear comments, listen. What do you see on their face? What is their tone of voice? Are they angry, confused, sad, humbled, engaged? Ask questions to clarify the content and the feeling. Make sure they know you have heard them fully!
  • Promote reconciliation. You can get to a point of healing and forgiveness. You might not fully restore the relationship—ever. Serious breakdowns and destructive sins may mean the end of the relationship, or operating at a new level. But in many cases, there can be reconciliation (both parties resolve the conflict, acknowledge the damage, pronounce forgiveness, and move ahead). With time (sometimes very little or none), there can be restoration of the fully functioning relationship (pre-conflict). That is the goal.

I just did this with my spouse again. We had some issues to process together. It works—but it takes some work. I've found that 80 percent of the conflict is usually resolved by simply starting the conversation. Is it always smooth or painless or emotion-free? Hardly. But it is truthful, clear, and intentional about getting the relationship right again; just like God has done for our relationship with him.

Is there someone you need to do this process with? What are you waiting for?

—Dr. Bill Donahue, Ph.D., is author of many books, including Leading Life-Changing Small Groups. Article excerpted with permission from www.DrBillDonahue.com.

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