Resolving Interpersonal Conflict and Strengthening Relationships

Resolving Interpersonal ConflictAs women and men who are striving to live out our faith, are we any different than those who have no faith? Most of us want to be different, hope to be different. Are we?

We are products of our culture. We hear people say, “You reap what you sow,” “It’s my right.” “I deserve…” or “He doesn’t deserve…” When we are experiencing difficulty or strife, it is natural to become focused on ourselves. At the times when I am anxious, angry, frustrated, or sad, I naturally begin to focus inward on my personal needs, fears or rights. We want to fight for ourselves by trying to win the battle or overpower our perceived enemy or opponent. Another response is to retreat from the situation by avoiding the person or escaping into the refuge of food, alcohol, shopping or television. Many of us can relate with these responses and know them well. It is a natural human response from those of us born of this world.


Our response to conflict

We do not have to be slaves to our human instincts or our cultural norms; we can choose to respond in a way that promotes peace, connection and likely a positive reciprocal response from those with whom we are in conflict. As Christians, we are invited to align ourselves with the mind of Christ and, therefore, our response should look different from the rest of the world. In Romans 12:2, the Bible says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). You might ask, How do I do that? How do I know what the mind of Christ looks like? God made it easy for us and gave us the Bible so we can read Christ’s words and responses in the face of conflict, strife, anger, fear and sadness. If you are safe from physical or deep psychological harm, consider these four elements of a Biblical response to conflict.


Glorify God

The first is “Glorify God.” Instead of focusing on your own desires and rights or what others may do or deserve, shift your focus to the love, power, compassion, mercy and wisdom of your Heavenly Father. Seek His commands and his promises. As a Christian, how are you called to respond? How has Christ responded to your sin and imperfections? How can you honor him and thank him through your response in this situation? What might others notice about how you handle this hurt, injustice or betrayal? What will they see of Christ in you? Take a moment to write down what you hope Christ will see in you through your response in this situation. What do you hope He is doing or building in you for His purposes through this situation?


Get the log out of your eye

In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (NIV). Our natural human response is to shine a spotlight on the imperfections of others while excusing and minimizing those same imperfections in ourselves. It’s so common that it has a name: the fundamental attribution theory. We are wired to blame, judge and stereotype the other.

James 5:15-16 says, “…and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (NIV). The only person you have any control over is yourself. Jesus calls us to look at ourselves first. What is our contribution to the conflict? For what can we take responsibility and seek to adjust? Rather than blaming others or resisting correction, we can be humble and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.


Gently restore

Once you have reflected on how you can glorify God through the situation and examined your own heart and contributions to the conflict, consider how you can gently restore the relationship and the person with whom you are in conflict. Rather than talk about the person behind his or her back or act like the conflict doesn’t exist, one option is to choose to forgive the offense and sincerely let it go. If the offense is too big to overlook, seek to bring the issue up to the person with the intent of restoring the person and relationship. Seek restoration rather than condemnation. If it doesn’t work, you can ask Christian brothers or sisters to assist you in the restoration process. (Matthew 18:15)


Go and be reconciled

The final step is to pursue genuine peace and reconciliation by forgiving others as God has forgiven us. Peacemaking is not about giving up your interests and hopes nor is it about “winning” or being right. As you move forward, continue to seek just and mutually satisfying solutions for all involved. As you seek to be a “blessed peacemaker,” God will richly bless you with his love, peace, mercy and joy.


Terry Morrow, Ph.D. is the president of Morrow and Associates Partnership for Leadership and Transformation. She is an assistant dean and assistant professor at Nova Southeastern University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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