In this world, conflict happens. Jesus put it this way: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
What’s the best way to respond, then, from a biblical perspective? Here are some of the most powerful relational tools I’ve ever discovered. But first, I want to issue some precautions.
Just as both knives and scalpels are sharp metal objects capable of promoting either healing or destruction, these biblical relationship tools are very “sharp” and can be used for good or evil. It all depends on our motives. Though eminently practical, they are also theoretically idealistic. Only one person in history was capable of getting them right consistently. So give yourself grace as you learn to use them.
1. If possible, prepare the setting and plan for constructive confrontation. Avoid distractions, interruptions, or non-private discussions. Make sure you aren’t overly tired, stressed or emotionally reactive (Proverbs 16:1-3).
2. Take responsibility and initiative to directly address the issue. Avoid running from the problem. Don’t use the “silent treatment” or wait around for the other person to make the first move. Don’t allow problems to accumulate (Matthew 5:23-24).
3. Attack the problem—not the person—and propose viable options or solutions. Avoid judging or criticizing the other person. Don’t cast slurs on his or her personality, appearance, family of origin and the like. Name-calling, power messages or manipulative actions are strictly out of bounds. And there’s no need to try to change or “fix” anyone but you (Proverbs 15:1-2)
4. Stay on the subject: focus specifically and concretely on the facts, actions, feelings and events. Avoid sweeping generalizations and “kitchen-sink” attacks. Don’t bring up the past or make comparisons with others. Steer clear of irrelevant issues (Proverbs 17:14).
5. Take responsibility for your part of the conflict and be willing to admit humbly when you’re wrong. Avoid being proud, stubborn and arrogant. Don’t immaturely blame the other person for your feelings or actions. Embrace your own humanness and be aware of your blind spots (Philippians 2:3-5).
6. Learn and practice effective communication and active listening skills including usage of self-disclosing “I” language. Avoid accusatory “you” statements, exaggerations, and extreme language (e.g., “never,” “always,” “all,” “everyone”). Resist the temptation to interrupt (Ephesians 4:29).
7. State your needs, wants, hurts, disappointments and feelings clearly. Avoid pouting, nagging and complaining. Don’t put words in the other person’s mouth or expect others to read your mind (Matthew 12:34-37).
8. Be honest, respectful, honoring, and courteous. Avoid lying to protect yourself or someone else. Put all of the following on your “forbidden” list: name-calling and sarcasm, belittling or degrading the other person, and abusive, intimidating, forceful or violent behavior of any kind (Proverbs 15:4).
9. Learn to respect, appreciate and understand each other’s needs, feelings, interests and differences. Avoid the idea that you need to think or feel the same way as the other person. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you have to deny differences in taste, upbringing, viewpoint, customs or coping mechanisms in order to resolve your conflict (Romans 14:19-15:4).
10. Be willing to forgive (functionally defined as “giving up our right to hurt back”) an offense in order to cultivate the other’s growth, healing and well being. Avoid becoming resentful, bitter, punitive, alienated and controlled by vengeful fantasies and actions (Ephesians 4:31-5:2).
11. Strive for mutual understanding and a “win-win” outcome: Develop an “us-we-ours” view of the situation. Avoid trying to change the other person. Let go of the need to get your own way or to “win” the argument. Stay away from a self-centered “me-my-mine” attitude (Romans 15:7).
12. Agree to disagree. If there are unresolved issues, arrange to discuss them later. If necessary, get outside help from an unbiased, neutral, objective mediator or arbitrator. Avoid the temptation to withdraw from the situation and let the conflict go unresolved, in so much as it is up to you. At the same time, don’t pull in biased family members or friends to support you. When arguments escalate or become too intense, suggest calling a brief time-out to allow flaring tempers to cool (Proverbs 15:22).
If applied wisely and appropriately, these God-given relationship tools will equip you to construct and maintain healthy relationships for the Kingdom!