Talking your Way out of Conflict

By Dr. Richard J. Krejcir
This is a basic step by step biblical process to solve conflict personally or in a church. The essential key to solving disagreements is this; ask, "How can I honor, glorify and please Christ as Lord in this situation?"

This is a basic step by step biblical process to solve conflict personally or in a church.

Proverbs 3:4; 19:11; Matthew 7:3-4; 15:18-19; 18:15-17 Ephesians 4:29; James 5:16

Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:4

As a pastor, I have been involved with every kind of conflict imaginable, from business disputes, personality clashes, monetary discord, land rights, probate, parent- teacher issues, to, of course, the most common-marital disputes. I learned over the years, not so much from my degrees in psychology, but rather my pastoral experience, how to talk my way out of problems. Being a person who hates conflict, I seek the easiest, most efficient way to put it down. For the sake of my survival and sanity, I had to figure a way to focus people on the relationship more than the issue.

This worked great for many years in pastoral ministry until I came across domestic violence. These other issues were not life threatening, but then I came up against people in enraged situations trying to literally kill one another. For some strange reason, a person who hates conflict (me) had the opportunity to be a Chaplin for a Southern California Police Department for a couple years. My role was to ride along with and minister to the officers, and accompany them to the most dangerous police call there is-not bank robbery or dragnets-domestic violence. I spent a significant amount of time in training for this, and as a man of the cloth, so to speak, enraged, fighting couples were more agreeable to settle down without violence in my presence than for a uniformed officer. I had to learn fast-as my life and the officer's life depended on it-how to dissolve violent situations. These precepts, along with my pastoral training and experience, can be of help to you, too.

This is not the avoiding of problems (although I have been known to do that), but by carefully listening and coming to a solution to appease the person, the situation could be calmed down so the facts could be evaluated. Then, the concentration could be focused on the rebuilding of the relationship. Otherwise, the problem will continue and the relationship will suffer. The most important thing I had to learn is to not take problems at face value so that they overwhelmed me. I had to see the big picture-that God was still sovereign, and this, like any storm, would eventually pass and be forgotten.

Most problems seem complex; intertwined with so many people and so much hurt and communication ills, they seem overwhelming and hopeless. But, that is not the case; most problems have just a few simple components to them that can be isolated and dealt with. Even when I arrived on the scene with a man chasing his girlfriend with a knife, I was able to resolve the issue without shooting him. Of course you should never engage in a violent situation without significant training and someone at your side who is armed. But, you can resolve many issues in your life and the lives of others with a few simple hints. If you are not the one to do this, it is OK; most pastors should not. They should refer people with problems that they cannot handle to a good counselor or lawyer. And, with violence or potential violence, always, always call the police; do not take a chance. It is better to have a false arrest than a dead body!

Here is a roadmap to help you, your church, or a moderator through the biblical process of understanding and solving problems. This can be easily applied to church conflicts, business disputes, and martial clashes

Essential Points to Remember:

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Matthew 15:19

1. You are Christ's loved one (2 Corinthians 12:9-10): Do not take the problem as a personal attack, even if it is. You may be a part of the conflict, or a third party trying to resolve it. You are Christ's child; He is your identity and defense! When you understand that, you can better see your role as a relationship builder-even when the other person is seeking to tear you down. This first point has saved me a lot of stress and disappointment!

2. Conflict is an Opportunity (Psalm 37:5-6; John 14:15-31; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8): It is an opportunity to learn and give God honor. It is not necessarily bad or the end of a relationship. Know for certain that God can use conflict, whether it is sin, bad choices, a wrong turn, or a misunderstanding, and transform it into good if you let Him. God will be glorified, and you will grow in character, maturity, trust, love, obedience, and in faith.

3. Listen (Proverbs 28:13; James 1:19-25; 1 John 1:8-9): The first job is listening, without opening your mouth. Effective listening and getting each party to listen is essential! Until each one listens, nothing productive will happen. People need to be heard; the one who listens earns the right to be heard and resolve the issue. Make sure they know you are listening by giving eye contact, leaning forward, and being relaxed. Restate to clarify what you heard with as few words as possible, saying, this is what I heard... Be open and say, "I'm confused; let me try to restate what I think you said." Or, "You have said so much; let me see if I have heard it all."

4. Understand Forgiveness (Psalm 103:12; Isaiah 43:25; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Colossians 3:12-14): Most Christians have a pale sense of the wonder that we have been forgiven, and often fail to show that forgiveness to others when wronged. Forgiveness is absolutely crucial for any relationship to continue, and critical to resolve any conflict! Remember how much you have been forgiven; do not fail to show it to others! Remember, God does not treat us the way we tend to treat others.

5. Communicate (Luke 15:11-24): Seeking understanding is more important than resolving the issue. Most issues do not need to be resolved if all parties can understand one another's situation. Get them to talk and listen, and you are on the road to recovery! Why is the person hurt? Why do they feel that way? What do they want? What can be done?

These five points will have a significant impact on how we approach our feelings, attitudes, and hurts in conflict resolution. The key approach is to be like Christ, so give this to Him; give your prayer and reverence to our Lord (John 13:34-35; Rom. 15:5-7; 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:1-3).

Ask in prayer: How can I glorify You, as in please and honor You in this situation?

How to do this-the ABCs of conflict communication:

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17

a. Pray for wisdom and discernment! Keep praying, gather all of the facts, and get second opinions and godly council without revealing confidences.

b. Be positive, have a win-win attitude, smile, and look the person in the eyes. Affirm each person; make him/her feel comfortable. Let him/her know you care and want to hear. Treat each person with utmost respect and kindness even if you feel they do not deserve it. Remember that they are God's child, too! Operate in the Fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh!

c. Do not be afraid to give the moderating over to someone else if you cannot handle it. I have done this many times over the years, due to time, family, being out of my expertise, and personality clashes.

d. When you confront someone, ask yourself, how would I want to be confronted? Be humble and introspective so you can understand how you or (if you are the moderator) the participants have each contributed to the conflict.

e. Never compare your life and situations with that of others. God deals with everyone equally, yet differently. Think before you speak!

f. Write stuff down!

g. Validate each person as important.

h. Use humor only when it is appropriate, perhaps to diffuse a tense situation; never use it as an attack!

i. Identify the interests, concerns, desires, needs, limitations, and fears of each person involved.

j. Allow all the parties equal time to tell their side without interruption; then, get feedback from the others.

k. Do not be self-focused; focus on the issue, facts, feelings, and how this affects Christ's Kingdom and fullness.

l. If you are a part of the conflict, speak for yourself, not for the other person! As a moderator, make a ground rule that each person can only speak for themselves and not reword or restate the other's view. That way, the finger pointing is stopped and listening can begin.

m. Attack the issue, not the people; allow no condemnations, commands, threats, condescending attitudes, name calling, or disrespect!

n. Commit to understand one another and each side, and to refrain from interrupting.

o. Phrase the problem as questions and not attacks! Phrases such as, you feel (state the feeling) or because (state the content) are appropriate.

p. Do not blame! Have each party state how the issue affects him/her, and how they feel. For example, if a spouse is always gone and the other is angry about that, state, When you are gone I feel… (Lonely), rather than You are never home. This diffuses most arguments and refocuses blame by simply stating how he/she feels. When each one is aware of the other's feelings, especially in martial conflict, problem solving can begin.

q. Ask, How is the problem dishonoring God? How is it hurting each person involved and how is it damaging the relationship?

r. Be open and willing to listen to all solutions, no matter how ridiculous. Again, people need to be heard! This invites the willingness to cooperate and listen.

s. If people refuse to talk to one another, have them write their complaint on one page with a general description, their side of the dispute, what they think the other person did, and their solution. Then go over it, summarize it, and present it to both parties. Do not allow them to respond until it is fully read.

t. When sin is involved, it must be confessed and dealt with. The person whose attitude promoted the sin needs to be addressed and confronted.

u. Make sure you are listening and each person knows you are listening. If you are the moderator, you can restate each person's response. If it is a marriage situation with only the couple, restate your position in a positive way by saying, this is what I heard.… When you summarize, do not add new ideas or your agenda!

v. Keep to one issue at a time; do not allow other past conflicts to interrupt. When multiple problems are raised, the situation becomes too frustrating and overwhelming to solve. Solve one, or at least come to an understanding, before going to the next one.

w. Say, What can we do to solve this problem together? What are the steps do you see that can resolve this issue? If that does not work, place the issue on what the purpose of the Christian life is about, to worship and glorify Christ. How can we develop a solution that glorifies our Lord?

x. If the parties or you cannot calm down, take a break; if that does not work, reschedule for another time.

y. Start to work together by seeing each person on the same team and not opposing adversaries; we are all God's children, and in the same church family.

z. Remember: the goal is reconciliation through confession, love, and forgiveness (Prov. 28:13; Matt. 5:23-24).

6. Commit to a Positive Solution or Understanding (James 4:1-12; Matthew 15:18-19): A lot of conflicts, especially marital, will continue as each person is constantly pushing buttons; they are on a merry-go-round without being merry. You have to make a decision that the pushing will stop, regardless of the hurt, for the sake of the relationship. Ask, "What can you both do differently to solve this problem so it does not continue?" Then resolution can begin. All parties must agree that the cycles of conflict must stop. Unless there is an agreement and a follow-through, no resolution will take place. Sometimes, problems cannot be resolved, and that is OK if understanding is sought. If the person refuses to stop escalating the problem, they are obviously too steeped in pride and this problem will have to be referred to church elders and/or civil authorities. In the case of domestic violence, this is where I would cuff and stuff them into the patrol car. In the church, this is where they are asked to leave the fellowship until they get right with God.

Break down the issue in steps and then come to a solution that all can agree upon.

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.1 Peter 1:13-14

1. Gather all of the information you can. Write down the facts, feelings, possible outcomes if unresolved, and possible outcomes if resolved. Look for root issues; most problems are symptoms of deeper issues.

2. Write down the description(s) of the problem.

3. Write down what positive result each person would like to see.

4. Evaluate and summarize each person's statement so it describes the situation fairly.

5. Never discuss or try to resolve any conflict when either party is tired, hungry, or angry.

6. When you are dealing with substantive issues such as money, property, or human rights, you need to involve an attorney or professional in that field to help resolve the issue. If it is a theological issue, adhere to what is plainly taught in God's Word and your church confessions. But, even here, the goal is to be cooperative, not competitive.

7. Brainstorm possible solutions by thinking through ideas without critiquing them. Evaluate; do not argue! This is the possibilities stage; you do not need to jump to a conclusion. Take your time.

8. Look at all the ideas and then ask, How might we come to a mutual solution? How can we create a new and better future? Remember, all are on the same team!

9. If this is a conflict involving you, there is no moderator, and if things are not going smoothly, be humble; find a trusted, mutual friend, counselor, or pastor to moderate! Do not allow your pride to push others away and destroy relationships!

10. Now evaluate the ideas one by one. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the ideas? Which ones are acceptable to all parties? Which ones glorify our Lord the most? Remember to keep it positive; not everyone will be happy.

11. Create a schedule to implement the best possible solution.

12. Remember, when people are uncooperative, only God can change them and they need to have the willingness to allow Him to do so.

13. If you failed to come to an understanding, take this to heart; as long as you are obedient to Him, you did not fail--you succeeded immeasurably! Some situations cannot be resolved simply because of improper perspectives and pride.

14. Once an agreement is reached, commit to the fact that this incident does not need to be brought up again, especially in marriage. Then follow up on it in a couple of days, weeks, a month and six months later. I will not complain about it, I will not dwell on it, I will not gossip about it; I will not use it against the other person. I will forgive and forget and move ahead in building our relationship! If not, it will just start all over again!

7. Remember: not all people, Christians included, play fair or want reconciliation! The common responses are denial, fight or flee, some like to sue, and in extreme cases, murder and suicide.

· Flee: The person(s) will not solve because they fear what people think, pretend it is not a problem and thus they turn and run from it. These are the people who just leave a church and you usually never hear from them or why (Gen. 16:6-8; 1 Sam. 19:9-10)!

· Fight: Person(s) are engaged in an escalating drama and like it, will not stop because of fear of reprisal or do not know what to do. Sometimes they have unrealistic demands and are willing to take it to a physical confrontational level. These people use intimidation or manipulation to get their way (Acts 6:8-15).

· Sue Happy: Some people see a situation as an opportunity to make money. Or, they see no other way to handle it except by civil action. This should only be used if there is no other way and financial damage has occurred where forgiveness of the debt is not appropriate stewardship. Sometimes, it is necessary (for legal reasons) to seek a civil authority. Be wise; get a good attorney but still follow the conflict resolution steps (Matt. 5:25-26; Acts 24:1-26; Rom. 13:1-51 Cor. 6:1-8).

· Denial: The person(s) are in and just will not admit their sin, problem, or offence as an obstacle. Pride and/or fear are at work, and thus they choose to ignore it or to work it out (Gen. 16:1-6; 2 Sam. 2:22-25).

If the situation cannot be resolved by you, that is OK! Refer them to a professional or a professional who specializes in this area.

Applying these ABCs to a Marriage Problem

Matthew 7:3-5; 2 Corinthians 3:18

But we Christians have no veil over our faces; we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Each of these previous steps is a biblical way to deal with a marriage dispute through working with a qualified pastor or counselor. The principle issue is reconciliation with a win/win scenario. We can do this by realizing who we are in Christ, as we previously discussed, and that we are to mirror Christ-like character in our marriage even when it is tough! We have to lift the veil that blinds us to love, opportunities, and reconciliation; this veil blinds us to Christ as well! It is my experience, in countless marriage counseling sessions, that about 90 percent of the time, a misunderstanding is escalated by the pushing of each other's buttons, and by being blinded by the veil of pride and hurt. Both have to be willing to take a step back and work on themselves spiritually in maturity, and commit to stop the escalating of the matter. Also, keep to one issue at a time; do not allow the whole can of worms to be dumped. Work on one worm at a time, one problem or issue at a time! Then the steps can be effectively engaged. It will do wonders if a couple can act cordially to each other, if they can sit together, go through these steps one at a time, and spend a lot of time in prayer. But, it usually takes a pastor or counselor to make this process more effective and pleasant.

Each person brings his or her faults into any relationship. There are no perfect people. We all have personality dysfunctions and shortcomings which we have to be willing to work on. In the next chapter, we will be talking about relationship killers, such as being defensive, which greatly comes into play in resolving disagreements. Explain these killers to the couple if you are the counselor, to yourself if you are in the argument, and commit in the counseling session and at home not to engage in such destructible practices. You have to be willing to work on yourself first (Matthew 7:3-5). A married couple is on the same team; you are not each other's enemy! So, be willing to see your spouse as your teammate, and not your rival. In that way, you can avoid seeing the other as the problem, and focus on the issue and the solution!

Marital research has shown that 80 percent of problems do not even have to be solved when the couple talks through the issues and reaches mutual understanding (Focus on the Family). Most issues can just be talked out when both apply listening, understanding, and the Fruit of the Spirit over their will and hurt. Only the most difficult of problems will involve the use of Matthew 18 and intervention.

The essential key to solving disagreements is this; ask, "How can I honor, glorify and please Christ as Lord in this situation?"

Principle Scripter to How to Understand, Solve, and Prevent Conflict: Genesis 4; Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 3:4-6; 18:13; Matthew 5:9; 7:5; 15:18-20; 18: 15-20; Luke 6:27-36; 19:1-9; Romans 8:28-29; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8; 10:31-11:1; 13; Galatians 5; Ephesians 4:22-32; 5:1; Philippians 2:3-6; 4:2-9; Colossians 1:17-20; 3:12-17 James 4:1-3; 1 John 14:15

© 1989, 1998, 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D., Discipleship Tools

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