Five Options When Faced With Conflict
In my book, Happily Ever After, I share the following humorous story about conflict: Years ago, a large statue of Christ was erected high in the Andes on the border between Argentina and Chile. Called Christ of the Andes, the statue symbolizes a pledge between the two countries that as long as the statue stands, there will be peace between Chile and Argentina.
Shortly after the statue was erected, the Chileans began to protest that they had been slighted—the statue of Christ had its back turned to Chile. But just when tempers were at their highest in Chile, a Chilean newspaperman saved the day.
In an editorial that not only satisfied the people but made them laugh, he simply said, “The people of Argentina need more watching over than the Chileans.”
I have had the privilege of training leaders around the globe and no matter where I go, there is one constant every leader faces on every continent:
Jesus was speaking about conflict when He said,
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:43-48, The Message)
The following are five ways leaders can deal with conflict. These principles aid us in seeing how we choose to deal with conflict.
- I'll get them! I will strike back. This is often our default setting; our first feeling. Shoot first, ask questions later. The key word here is retaliation.
- I'll get out! This is perhaps the most socially acceptable option, especially in the church. I’ll go to the first worship service; they can go to the third worship service. I won't have to see her; she won't see me. We don’t and won't hit the issue that's bugging us head-on; we'll avoid it. The key words are escape and avoidance.
- I'll give in! If this is the option I choose, I basically throw in the towel. I give up because I want so much to avoid dealing with the conflict. "Let him win, then. I don't care." It's avoidance to the extreme. And nothing is ever resolved. The key word is surrender.
- I'll go half! This, at least, is movement in a positive direction. It's a little bit better than our previous options. We'll meet halfway. But are we really happy now? Probably not. There is still a sense of unsettledness. Why? Because nothing has really been settled. The key word is compromise.
- I'll deal with it! This is the best of the five options. I will address the issue with courage and forthrightness. Learn the art of healthy confrontation. Don’t run and hide. Effective leaders choose this option every time. The key thought here is to boldly “address the issue.”
Of the five principles, which one tends to be my default setting?
Of the five principles, which one do I see as the most fruitful and productive?
Which one will I choose to employ the next time I find myself in a situation of conflict?
Am I currently in conflict with someone or some thing? Which of the five principles do I see myself “in”?
What do I need to do to move to the next higher level?