4 Wrong Ways to Handle Conflict

May 4, 2015 by Jack Wilkie

Today is a Monday, the day pretty well universally known as the most difficult day of the week. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that you will probably run into people who are frustrated, stressed, or even angry today, and you might even be one of those people.
As a natural part of our lives as people who fall short of God’s glory, at some point – whether today, tomorrow, later this week, or whenever – conflict will arise. Someone will get on our nerves. We will frustrate someone. However, since “love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39), since we are to let our light shine before men so they glorify God (Matthew 5:16), and since the fruit of the Spirit heavily involves how we interact with others (at least six of the nine involve interpersonal relationships), how we handle conflict is one of the most important things we do as Christians. It’s also one of the ways in which we can stand out best in a world full of angry, bitter, downtrodden, and stressed people.

Should we choose the wrong way to respond to conflict, we can burn bridges and turn people away from God, and that’s simply not acceptable behavior for people who claim the name of the He who went to the cross and died for us without ever striking back at those who wrongfully killed Him (Isaiah 53:7). Our motivation should always be Romans 12:18 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

In this article we’ll look at four destructive responses and instincts we must remove from our work relationships, marriages, friendships, church relationships, and every other interaction if we are going to align ourselves with Him and be peacemakers.

Gossip. God saw fit to put gossip in with a list of “serious” sins in Romans 1:28-32, so it’s not something He takes lightly. Going around to other people in an attempt to rally support or get people to choose sides before handling conflict does two things. First, it hurts that person’s character in the eyes of friends, family, and fellow Christians. Second, it can hurt your credibility and relationships with the people you tell. Why would people want to associate with someone who would rather put them down behind their back than work to preserve a relationship? What we’re saying when we gossip about someone is that we’d rather let other people know that he or she is a lousy person than repair our relationship and make sure we’re both right before God.

The silent treatment. One of the easiest ways to handle conflict is to simply shut the other person out and go on with life ignoring them and refusing to deal with the situation. However, taking that easy road is one of the quickest ways to destroy a relationship. What we’re saying when we refuse to talk to people who have wronged us is that they don’t even deserve to hear from us or, in some cases, even know what they did to upset us. But how is that a Christ-like response? How does that keep the peace as far as it depends on us? Where would we be if God treated us that way every time we sinned against Him? Keeping the peace often first and foremost means keeping lines of communication open.

Angry outbursts. Listed among the deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21, doing our best volcano impression and stoically holding all of our frustrations with other people in until they boil over and explode is a way that’s sadly been recommended by some. But what we’re saying when we hold things in until we can’t take anymore is that we get to decide how much is too much. We get to decide when someone has crossed the line and is deserving of our anger. It gives us some sense of moral high ground, usually culminating with the words, “I’m sorry, but they had it coming,” or “You know, I’ve had enough and can’t take it anymore.” But what about forgiving 70×7 (Matthew 18:22)? What about giving a gentle answer to turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)? Holding in perceived slights and bottling up grievances may be recommended by some, but it ruins us from the inside out and only ends in pain and regret for everyone involved.

Passive-aggressive shaming. This seems to be the mode of choice for letting out frustration for many today, but often it can be the steam a volcano lets out before erupting. Rather than sitting down and lovingly discussing an issue with someone, passive aggressive people like to drop hints that they’re mad, knowing that people will rarely engage them on these snide remarks made in passing. What we’re saying when we treat others this way is that we want them to know we’re upset with them, but we’re too cowardly and don’t care about them enough to actually make things right. The only “message” we should be sending is that we love the person and want to be at peace with them. One of God’s greatest blessings for us is that He communicated to us clearly in His Word. We don’t have to guess at what He wants or how we can have a growing, solid relationship with Him despite our sins. We know. We should extend that grace to others in our relationships.

It’s amazing to think how our relationships at home, work, school, church, and everywhere else we go would change if we would just drop these habits and communicate with people the right way, the way God wants us to. Tomorrow we’re going to post a follow-up article, “4 Right Ways to Handle Conflict.” They’ll know we are Christians by our love, and the clearest way we show that is how we treat others, even others who give us trouble. As far as it depends on us, let’s be at peace with all men.

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