Six Secrets of Communicating in Conflict

Six Secrets of Communicating in Conflict

Conflict is painful.  It is destructive to families, businesses, and to ministries.  It leaves people feeling like a failure believing they could have done something more to maintain the peace and live in harmony.  For others they carry with them anger and a backpack full of vitriol because of the way things transpired.  Would if we could become more skilled in resolving conflict?  I believe it is possible to do better by learning some secrets about communicating in the midst of the emotional throes of conflict.

Conflict releases a flood of emotions and stimulates our adrenaline system.  Our bodies are pumped full of energy and tension that are difficult to control.  At the very time we need more control and self-awareness, we must fight to stay calm and use our mental capacities to think through how to respond in a reasonable and helpful way.  Communicating in a healthy and productive way during this rush of adrenaline is a challenge for most of us.  We tend to react rather than respond with thoughtfulness.  The result is often deeper conflict rather than resolution.

Conflict raises its ugly head when something that is core to a person is being threatened.  I am not a fan of classical music, but someone playing Beethoven doesn’t trigger conflict for me.  Why?  It doesn’t threaten the core of who I am.  However, if you block me from achieving a goal that is critical to my ministry success, I will likely go into conflict.  We only go into conflict about things that are important to us and threatens our core.

Knowing what is core and important to you will help you address conflict in a healthy way.  Corestrengths and the SDI 2.0 gives us a way of understanding this truth.  Some go into conflict primarily around the way people are treated.  They get upset when people are not protected and cared for that shows respect and love.  Others go into conflict when then things are done “randomly” or in an unorganized way.  They get triggered by inaccuracies and faulty processes.  Still others are like me – they find themselves fighting against those who want to slow things done and don’t show and urgency to get things done.  It violates our convictions about taking advantage of opportunities and creating a win for everyone.  I know some people who get triggered in conflict when they are not asked for their opinion and are left out of a decision.  Being included in the process of decision making so they can share their learning and wisdom to make sure different view points are considered is critical to them.  We need to understand what causes us to go into conflict.

Knowing what causes conflict for you will help you know when you are in conflict as well as what you want in order to get out of conflict.  When your values are challenged you are likely to go into conflict.  To get out of the conflict, you will want to have your value affirmed.  If the person you are in conflict with was triggered, try to understand what value was threatened to them.  Affirming that value will help you come to a resolution.

Disagreements are not necessarily conflicts.  You can have disagreements that do not violate important values.  Sometimes disagreements can be beneficial, as you might discover better solutions by working through them.  But when someone’s values are threatened, conflict erupts.  Until that value is addressed, it will be difficult to find resolution and peace.

For thirteen years, an important aspect of my ministry was conflict resolution.  I leaned into the possibility of reconciliation and grew in my understanding of how it was possible.  The Scriptures give us truth about the process of reconciliation.  We have been reconciled and we are to reconcile others.  The Gospel is a call to reconciliation.  At the core of what Jesus came to do was to reconcile us to God and reconcile us to one another.  Matthew 18 gives us the process.  1 Corinthians 13 tells us to act in love and what that looks like.  In my experience, our failure to reconcile is due to our inability to communicate effectively even while we are trying to Biblically reconcile.  The more people talk and try to reconcile, even with a mediator, the deeper the conflict becomes.  In reflecting on years of frustration, I have discovered some secrets that can help you obey the commands of Scripture to reconcile and do it successfully.

Secrets to Communicating in Conflict

  1. Communicate what is important to you and why. The way out of conflict is to address the reason for the conflict which is your values.  It is possible to keep talking about surface issues and never get to the core of the conflict.  Understand what core value has been stepped on and why you may feel that way will help you cut to the issue.  Do this with humility rather than accusation believing the best of the other person.
  2. Listen and affirm what is important to the other person. Think about the other person and why they are in conflict.  When you affirm the value they feel has been violated, you are on the way to finding a solution.
  3. Avoid triggering further conflict with words. Depending on a person’s motivational value system, they are more sensitive about certain words.  Using these words may deepen the conflict.  Using words like “every”, “all the time”, “never”, will likely trigger someone who values truth and accuracy.  In an effort to defend ourselves we may tend to overstate facts.  When someone says something that seems irrelevant or wrong avoid words like, “I don’t care”.  They can trigger those who value people and feelings.  Be careful of telling a person who values winning that “it can’t be done”.  Watch your tongue as words can tear down what is important to others.
  4. Watch your non-verbal communication. Your body language can communicate aggressiveness (lack of respect for others), coldness (don’t care or don’t want to engage), lack of eye contact (are they interested?), derogatory tone (my ideas are more important than yours), etc.
  5. Understand your perceptions influence your communication. We all have filters that determine how we experience the actions of people.  My commitment to getting ahead and winning influences the way I think things should be done.  Going slow is perceived as wrong to me, but for others it is wrong to go fast until we know what we are doing or how it impacts others.  Understanding your own filters and being careful how they work themselves into your communication is foundational to resolving conflict well.
  6. Confess our overdone strengths. Scripture tells us to get the log out of our own eye when we are in conflict with other people.  It is common for our strengths to get overdone in the eyes of others.  By confessing our own propensity for doing these things and asking for forgiveness upfront, we demonstrate humility and open the door to understanding each other.  My strength of confidence can be perceived as arrogance when overdone.  If they other person sees me as arrogant, I have little chance of being reconciled.  Know your overdone strengths and be ready to confess them when in conflict as they are often the barrier for reconciliation.

The Scripture’s teach us to live at peace with everyone as far as it is possible for you.  Jesus said they will know we are Christians by our love.  We are ministers of reconciliation.  Let us commit ourselves to resolving conflict well each

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.