Conflict can be a very uncomfortable thing.  As necessary as conflict resolution is, most people would rather just avoid the issue, sweep it under the rug, or just spend time gossiping about it to people who are unrelated to the issue.  At the core of this aversion is the misguided thought that conflict is bad.  Not all conflict is bad.  Some conflict is necessary to resolve issues and move on.

In his book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni writes, “This failure to build trust [which is the first dysfunction] is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict.  Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas.”

In conflict, we are able to get out the issues that are bothering us and begin working towards a resolution.  Healthy conflict is necessary in any relationship in life.  No two people are alike, and therefore, there will be points of conflict along the way.  Finding healthy ways of dealing with that conflict is what’s important.

What are some unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict?

  • Complaining to other people who are not involved in the initial complaint.  This is also known as gossiping.
  • Not letting your complaints be known, then continuing to get upset about them.  There comes a point when your complaint is your problem, not the other person’s.  Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
  • Lashing out in a negative way about even unrelated things regarding the individual with whom you are upset.  People are more than just your one issue with them.  If you allow that one issue to take over how you see the person, then your anger at the person will grow to be unreasonable from an objective standpoint.
  • Making assumption about the other person’s thought processes.  We don’t always have all the information.  Making assumptions about how a person should act in a given situation, or about what that person is thinking only leads to more issues.
  • Focusing more on being right than listening to another’s point of view.  Unhealthy conflict sees the argument as something that one has to “win”.  There are no winners when this is the mentality.
  • Passive aggressive posts on social media.  Why is it not okay to deal with the person you are having an issue with, but it is okay to share that issue with your 74 Twitter followers and 219 Facebook friends?  This, also, is a form of gossip.

In today’s selection from the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan in Matthew 18, Jesus talks about conflict resolution with other believers.  In Matthew 18:15-17, he lays out some guidelines for healthy conflict resolution.

Healthy ways of dealing with conflict

  • Go privately and point out the offense.  If somebody has done something wrong, then you need to be an adult and talk to that person.  A number of conflicts are simply misunderstandings that can easily be cleared up through a conversation.  If that doesn’t work…
  •  Take one or two others with you so that there will be witnesses to the conversation.  In one on one conversations, it can easily get into a “He Said She Said”.  That’s a no win situation.  Of course, the other part of this is that it is not an opportunity to gang up on the one that you think offended you.  The other parties involved need to be non-partial.  Never gang up on another person; it is counter-intuitive to what you want to accomplish.  If that doesn’t work…
  • Take the issue before a larger body: In this particular instance, Jesus says take it to the church, but we can apply that principle differently in different contexts.  For example, at work, you would take your complaint to human resources.  In a United Methodist church, it would be the Staff Parish Committee.  It really depends on the organizational structure.  And if that doesn’t work…
  • Jesus says, “treat the person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.”  What in the world does this mean?  Does this mean we are supposed to ostracize them?  Never talk to them?  Cut them out of the community?  Well, what does Jesus do with the pagans and tax collectors?  Answer that question, and you’ll see that handling conflict does not need to get nasty.  Rather, approach the conflict with a genuine love for the other person.  That’s the real hard part of conflict resolution.

It’s no coincidence that the next pericope that follows has to do with forgiveness, either.  Peter wants to know how often he should be willing to forgive.  And so, Jesus tells a story about what happens when we don’t forgive.  We forget that great debt that has been forgiven for us.  The point of the parable is to remind us that God has forgiven far more than we could ever pay back in our lives, and we should take that forgiveness and distribute it as often as necessary to those in our lives that have wronged us.

Who has wronged you?  How can you resolve that conflict in a healthy way?  And, most importantly, how can you begin to forgive that person as God has forgiven you?