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3 Steps towards healthy conflict

Dec 08, 2017 | Erin Ford

Sound Familiar?

Sitting in the library a flood of emotions comes over you. Hurt, anger, confusion, shame, betrayal. A friend whom you thought you trusted had just shared with the group a personal issue you had confessed to them the week before. Didn’t they realize that was confidential? Now everyone else knows about it – the shame feels overwhelming as people give you “wow I didn’t know” looks.

You feel hurt and stuck, not sure what to do next.

Does that sound familiar?

Interpersonal relationships can bring some of the greatest joys and blessings, but also some of the greatest hurts and pains. There is both an opportunity and risk when we are vulnerable with others. Vulnerability breeds trust and connection. But when that trust is broken it can easily feel paralyzing. What’s the best response? Is not responding an option? It certainly can feel like the safest thing when we already feel hurt.

Here are three steps that will help you begin the process of handling your hurt and pursuing healthy conflict resolution.

Step 1: Address it one-on-one first

In Matthew 18:15-16 Jesus shares how his followers should handle interpersonal conflict. He says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

If a person has hurt you or sinned against you, start by talking to them on your own. It’s helpful to choose a place to talk that’s quiet and private and a time when you’re not rushed. You don’t have to be completely alone with a person in order to talk, especially if you feel unsafe. Just don’t sit at a table right beside your friends where everyone can overhear your conversation.

If talking with them doesn’t resolve the issue, then it can be helpful and wise to bring another person whose neutral to help you both talk through it again. That person is called a mediator and can help navigate the conversation and keep you accountable. Look for a mediator who you both trust and respect, and who may have more experience handling these types of conversations. They can guide you towards a solution and (hopefully) reconciliation.

Step 2: Be honest and don’t make assumptions

Conflict often occurs because of how someone’s words or actions landed on the other person (how they made them feel) – regardless of their intention. Before you talk with the person take some time to pray and allow your emotions to subside so that you can look at the situation as objectively as possible.

Begin by stating facts calmly: “In the library on Tuesday when we were hanging out at the table, you mentioned to everyone that I was struggling with…”

Then share how their actions (or words) made you feel: “When you told everyone I felt embarrassed and exposed. I felt hurt, like you betrayed my trust. I thought I had made it clear last week when I shared with you that it was confidential.”

Try not to accuse or make assumptions about their intentions. Even if you think you know, unless they’ve clearly stated the facts there’s no reason to assume. Instead, humbly ask: “Why did you tell them?”

At this point the other person can respond to what you’ve shared and offer an explanation for their actions. They may surprise you with their answer, and there may have been a misunderstanding for which you can clarify and seek forgiveness for.

These conversations can be hard and the other person may need time and space to process. If they respond poorly initially it may be rooted in their own need to emotionally process. If things get heated, suggest that you both take a few days to process and plan to revisit the issue again soon. Sometimes a little time and space can help bring clarity to your conflict.

Finally share your desires for the future. This helps define healthy boundaries and helps both your and your friend moving forward. Suggest: “In the future if I share struggles I would appreciate it if you didn’t share it with anyone else. I want us to have a good friendship and in order to work towards that and build trust I need you to respect that.”

Step 3: Don’t gossip or stuff your emotions — Seek wise counsel

When you feel hurt by conflict you can either process it internally or externally. Both are valid ways to process, but can be harmful and unhealthy if you’re not careful. If you’re an internal processor you’re more likely to sort out your feelings by thinking about them. If you’re an external processor you’re more likely to need another person with whom you can verbally work out your emotions. Whether you’re an internal or external processor, you should seek wise counsel for help in processing your emotions and wisdom in knowing how to talk to the person who has hurt you.

Wise counsel can look like talking to one or two people (not everyone in your friend group) who may have more life or relational experience, someone who is proven to be confidential and trustworthy. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”

The person whom you turn to for counsel can help prepare you to talk to the person who has hurt you. At the end of the day you still need to talk to the person directly. Otherwise, you’re just talking and sharing details about that person who has hurt you without a plan of response – that can easily become gossip which stirs drama and creates more relational pain.

Healthy conflict breeds unity

As relationships and connection are part of a healthy life, conflict will naturally occur at various points. There is such a thing as healthy conflict: when you work through issues it can bring about greater unity and peace in a relationship. Entering into conflict resolution with a friend states that their relationship matters to you. It proves they are worth working through whatever happened so that you can grow and thrive in healthy friendship.

There is power in asking someone directly “will you forgive me?” and telling someone “I forgive you”. Where there is reconciliation and forgiveness, unity and peace closely follow.

About the Author

Erin Ford

Erin is passionate about helping people grow in their faith and discover God. You can read more of her writing on her website at erinwrites.ca.

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