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Paul Hayden

Five Different Ways of Dealing with a Conflict

June 22, 2020

Here is a story on a couple trying to resolve an argument and come to a mutual resolution. Read on. After reading this story, you, along with Nancy, may need to breathe slowly and count to ten.  

The other day, Nancy and I got into a petty argument. I say it was trivial. Nancy would say it was Armageddon. As is our nature, neither of us would admit the possibility that we might be in error. To her credit, Nancy finally said, "Look, I'll tell you what. I'll admit I'm wrong if you admit I was right." "Fine," I said. She took a deep breath, looked at me in the eye, and said, "I'm wrong." I grinned and replied, "You're right."

How we manage conflict can either make us or break us, especially in today's angry, fearful, frustrated, and drama-based world. It seems like we are addicted to drama and conflict. How do most mainline national media determine what makes the headlines? “If it bleeds, it leads.” To those sources, I suggest that you don't start drama and then say you hate drama.

Like pornography, fear is an addiction. Many become addicted and stimulated by fear and conflict. The new phrase for this is called 'Fear Porn.' Ratings go up when fear and conflict go up. There's a difference between being informed and being scared to death, then looking for a scapegoat to condemn because of your anxiety or outrage. That’s hurting us, not helping us. Fear and anger mongering takes us further from a resolution on crucial or even critical issues that affect our life and others' lives.  

Whenever and wherever human beings relate, there will be problems, misunderstandings, arguments, and disillusionment. The truth is either we manage conflicts, or our conflicts will manage us. Resolving issues is much more productive and emotionally healthy than 'polarizing' and separating if possible. I'm not talking about extreme cases like spousal or child abuse, etc. I'm talking about differences where resolution is possible with the right attitudes and solutions. That creates a win-win for all parties.

Jesus said it best in Matthew 18:7. I'll quote part of the verse for you from the Message Bible. "Hard times are inevitable, but you don't have to make it worse - it's doomsday if you do." He was talking about relationships when He said that. The good news is we don't have to make the conflict worse if we don't want to.

There are five styles of handling conflict. The first is to win. The 'win' style says, "I'm right, and you're wrong." This style is more about winning the debate. This person needs to win, then withdraws. There's no negotiation. This style is a win-lose scenario, not best for the long term.

The second style is withdrawal. It says, "I can't win...I'm never right...I'm mad, and I'm shutting down...why should I even try?" This person feels they are the victim. Their passive way of coping suggests that they have checked out on a meaningful relationship. If that's you, be careful how you talk to yourself because you're listening.

The third style is to yield. "I'll give in for the sake of the relationship. It doesn't matter that much." This person is generally codependent and doesn't want to take the risk of breaking the relationship. However, if you fight against a feeling for the long term you always lose.

The fourth style is 'compromise.' One party stays engaged, but the engagement is conditional. "I'll only give if you give. I'll go as far as you go." It's like a chess game that seldom resolves. 

The fifth style is resolution. This style looks for a win/win. "We both need a win. There is a right answer for both of us." But resolution requires that both parties get control of their emotions and choose to stay engaged in the resolution process. Both parties must realize that they may have to give a little to get a lot. Sometimes you need to give up, to go up, which is a sign of growing up. Both sides build a bridge and get over it. Often, a neutral third party is required to keep both parties from going to the dark side.

Let's learn a lesson from crayons. Some are sharp, some are pretty, and some are dull. Some have weird names. All are different colors, but they all live in the same box. That's an excellent lesson for us. The truth is our differences don't go away, but our hostilities can.

Conflicts can resolve if both parties are willing to be committed to the relationship, committed to resolving their disputes, and committed to turning off the loud voices that so often disrupt the process of resolution. Often these 'unpaid lawyers' start drama to stop the process of reconciliation.

How many jobs are lost, potential unrealized, marriages ended, partnerships dissolved, businesses ruined, murders committed, nations collapsed, because of conflicts in relationships? There’s a heap of wisdom and potential in the Fifth Style of resolution and the crayon illustration. We are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequences of our choice, so choose wisely. If it’s going to be, it starts with me.  

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com