Confronting Conflict

My grandson asked, “How come you never get upset?” I reflected for a moment and responded by saying, “When people get upset, it is difficult to know what to say or do.”  As a teacher of tools for tough conversations, I have applied principles that take me from a place of shutting down around conflict to a place of purpose in resolving conflict.

When you see or hear something that creates a story in you, the tendency is to play that story out until you are good and angry, sad, disappointed. As you behave based on those emotions, the other party is seeing and hearing what your reaction is and the spiral of the conversation goes to conflict as they react in kind.

What if, before we speak, we become aware of the story in our heads? Before you speak, ask yourself what the facts are of what you heard or observed. Facts allow us to let go of the story. If a congregant asks a question about your Sunday message, the facts are that a question was asked and a response is requested. The story might be that there is ridicule in those words and I don’t like to be ridiculed. When we become aware of the story and let go of it, we respond with less emotion and temper the conflict. Your response may be, “The message was meant to inspire. Help me understand how you received my words.”

Staying in dialogue when conflict arises is the way to resolve issues. Human nature causes us to clam up or shout out. Either way, we have stepped out of the content of conversations and are no longer in dialogue. We are simply managing the emotions. Come from a place of love, not emotion, and become curious.

People want to be understood and to be respected. When conflict arises, discover what’s underneath the words, the actions, the body language. It is a study in possibilities and your role is to be courageous enough to look at your own stories, separate your stories from the facts, and explore the same in others. In conflict we learn about one another’s behaviors. In dialogue we learn about one another’s heart’s desire.


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