3 Essentials to Resolving Conflict Well

Nobody likes conflict. Yet, it’s inevitable in life. As I’ve served as a pastor for over 30 years sometimes I’ve handled conflict well. Sometimes I’ve not. However, I’ve learned more about how to solve it Biblically from Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, a book I’d recommend every ministry leader read. His book is filled with pure gold and I’ve modified below some of his insights with these three essentials necessary to resolving conflict well. I call them the 3-R’s of conflict resolution.

Choose to Resolve or Continue Conflicts - Conflict Resolution

The 3-R’s of Conflict Resolution.

  1. Recognize your autopilot response to conflict.
    • When a pilot flies a jet at high altitude on autopilot, he is passively piloting it. The computers take over with automatic non-thinking responses.  In the same way, when we feel pressured or threatened by another in a conflict, we tend to act on autopilot without even thinking.  Below I list eight F’s that describe unhealthy ways to resolve conflict. In this post I unpack these responses in more detail.
      • Fight-Flee-Freeze-Fuse-Fixate-Fix-Flounder-Feed/ fornicate/ finances
  2. Recast conflict as an opportunity to…
    • ..honor God. 1 Corinthians 10.31 tell us to do everything for God’s glory and honor. Conflict provides a moment in time when we can honor or dishonor Him by our responses. The next time you face conflict, ask yourself if how you plan to respond will honor Him.
    • …help others. Conflict can position us to be God’s healing agent toward another. If we respond well, we can model true grace to the other person.
  3. Realize the ultimate source of conflict: the human heart.
    • James 4.1 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” The word desires is the word we get hedonism from. It’s conflict that comes from our drive to satisfy ourselves at the expense of others. So, ultimately conflict is a heart issue. In the heart of us all is a drive to order our lives around ourselves and to do and get what we want.  It is called sin. So since conflict is ultimately a heart issue, it takes a heart/spiritual solution, the power of the Holy Spirit to change us so that we handle conflict in a redemptive way.

Resolving conflict is never easy, but it’s not impossible.

Whether you are a leader or not, conflict will come your way. When it does, consider the 3 R’s as you seek to resolve it.

What has helped you resolve conflict?

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5 Ways to Respond When Life Throws you a Curveball

Curveballs in life are inevitable. Unexpected surprises can level us or become opportunities to learn. The curveball thrown to Joseph when Mary told him about her “surprise” pregnancy certainly caught Joseph off guard, quite a curveball. But the story in Matthew 1 gives us 5 insights on how to respond when life throws you a curveball.

Curveball Grip

First, a bit of background. Matthew 1 tells us that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married. Unlike engagements today, in New Testaments days when you got engaged it took a divorce to end the engagement. They were both young and looking forward to a long life together and then Mary dropped the bombshell. Not only was she pregnant, but she explained it to Joseph with a story about how the Holy Spirit brought it about, a double whammy for Joseph: his wife was pregnant and she made up some crazy story it was not because of involvement with a man…two curveballs.

Here’s what we can learn from Matthew’s account.

When life throws you a curveball…

  1. Don’t act on impulse by doing what first comes to your mind.
    • In Joseph’s case probably the first thing that came to mind was the normal protocol for adultery in the time, a public divorce. But because he loved Mary, he didn’t want to publicly shame her and mar her chances to marry to a decent guy in the future. Impulse didn’t dictate his decision. Rather, his character did.
    • Principle: Grounded people resist impulsivity. 
  2. Draw upon Christ-centered character.
    • Verse 19 paints Joseph as a righteous man. That meant that he was a good man, a compassionate man, a man of character, a man faithful to God’s commands. Rather than acting on impulse, he acted upon his deeply imbedded values. He decided that a private divorce (much like a settlement out of court) would spare Mary from disgrace.
    • Principle: Christ-formed beliefs should determine our behavior. 
  3. Face, don’t deny your fear, worry, or anger.
    • But before Joseph acted, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife (v 20). The Gospels tell us that God spoke to Joseph four times through angels. God knew that Joseph felt fear so he spoke to Joseph about it. When curveballs hit us, it’s normal to feel anger, fear, anxiety, or worry. Our fight-flight-freeze centers in our brains automatically evoke feelings that we can’t avoid. But denying or stuffing them actually makes them more intense.
    • Principle: We can’t avoid feelings but we can determine their expression. 
  4. Stand upon the bedrock fundamentals of your faith.
    • Until I studied this passage deeply did I realize how it illustrates several core fundamentals of our faith. Focusing our attention on core doctrines gives us hope and confidence when a curveball hits us. Here are four fundamentals:
      1. The Holy Spirit dwells in us to, among other things, comfort us and give us wisdom to wisely respond (v 20).
      2. The virgin birth and the incarnation encourage us that our faith is based upon supernatural, life changing truth (v 23).
      3. Salvation in Christ alone reminds us that Jesus came to a crib to go to a cross to offer us forgiveness of sins (v. 21).
      4. Fulfilled prophecy provides evidence that Jesus was who He says He was (vss 22-23).
    • Principle: Undeniable truth forms the bedrock for Christianity. 
  5. Obey God’s promptings.
    • After the dream Joseph obeyed God and took Mary as his wife. Just as God acted in unconventional ways to bring about Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary, so sometimes we must obey in unconventional ways. Joseph did not take the expected path, divorce. Instead he went against the then current social morays to do the right thing by marrying Mary.
    • Principle: Obedience to God may take you into uncharted territory. 

This Christmas if life throws you a curveball, look to the Story. You’ll find encouragement, hope, and direction.

What would you add to this list of responses to life’s curveballs?

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7 Questions to Ask Yourself to End your Day Well

Starting each day well is certainly important. We must prioritize our goals, prepare our soul, and schedule our time wisely. When we discipline ourselves to begin each day with intention and thoughtfulness, we do ourselves and others good. I suggested 7 questions to ask yourself each morning in this post. But what about preparing to end your day? How can we end it well? Consider these 7 questions to ask yourself as you end your work day or before you go to bed.

Finish flags
  1. Did I treat others with respect, kindness, and God-inspired grace?
    • “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13.34-35, NIV)
  2. Did I rush through the day, or take time to be truly present with others and with God?  
    • “Be still, and know that I am God….” (Ps 96.10, NIV)
  3. Did I treat myself well, respecting my limits and my margins?
  4. Did I honor God with my time, the responsibilities He entrusted to me, and my competencies?
    • Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. (Col 3.23, NIV)
  5. Have I told my kids who live at home or my spouse, “I love you,” at least once today?  
    • The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love…. (Jer 31.3, NIV)
  6. Have I thanked God for at least one blessing He has given me today?
    • Be joyful always;  17 pray continually;  18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Ths 5.16-18, NIV)
  7. If you were to add a seventh question, what would it be?

Ending your day well might be the key to beginning the next day well. 

What was your seventh question?

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Should you get Closer to your Critics?

What’s happening in this picture? I used this in a recent talk and asked the church audience to give me their answers. Their responses included… two people are angry, they are upset, they aren’t talking, they disagree about something. One lady came up to me afterwards and said, “I think it means that she was right and he was wrong.” I chuckled at that one. In a phrase, this is what I see: two people, for whatever reasons, have cut themselves off from each other, both physical and emotionally. Leaders do that sometimes to their critics and naysayers. Here’s why that’s not a good idea and how we can stay closer to our critics.

emotional cut off copy

One of the greatest survival stories ever began in August 1914 when the famous explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, sailed with twenty-seven men on his ship the Endurance. He planned to lead the first expedition across the Antarctic continent. However, his ship got stuck in heavy sea ice which eventually crushed it off the coast of Antarctica. Stuck on four feet of ice over mile-deep water, Shackleton and his crew survived 635 days and nights with poor shelter and limited rations in some of the harshest conditions known. Amazingly, on foot and by small boat he eventually got to safety and then rescued his entire crew. You can read the full story in the great book, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.

What was the key to this amazing story of survival? It was a quality of Shackleton’s leadership presence. The ship’s surgeon, Alexander Macklin, captured one of the most important characteristics Shackleton embodied that contributed to the men’s survival. He wrote in his diary, “Shackleton at this time showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly (my emphasis) that we must winter in the Pack, explained its dangers and possibilities; he never lost his optimism.”[1]

Shackleton illustrates a quality I believe leaders need: to maintain a calm presence with their critics, dissidents, and naysayers. In his time of crisis, he calmly connected to his men, especially the dissidents and potential troublemakers. It made the difference between life and death.

It’s a counter intuitive approach. Staying reasonably and calmly connected is the better way to lower the relational tension and personal anxiety we feel toward our critics. It can improve those relationships and it doesn’t mean that we become their best friends or that we let them run over us.

So, who in your ministry is your biggest detractor today?

  • An old-timer who has been in the church 40 years?
  • A board member who seems to always take a contrarian view?
  • A staff person who isn’t performing?
  • A volunteer who doesn’t like you?
  • Or?

Shackleton’s secret was that instead of pushing away his detractors he actually drew closer to those men. He made two of his troublmakers his bunkmates in his tent. And when he left on a lifeboat to assemble a rescue party, he took 3 men whom he felt might cause trouble with the men who were left.

Here’s what I suggest to maintain a calm presence with such people.

  1. Recognize the power of emotional and relational force fields.
    • Just as magnets have force fields around them, leaders carry emotional force fields as well. Our demeanor, words, and vocal tone all carry power. We can draw people to us or push them away (like the same poles on a magnet do). Great leaders monitor and control their emotional force fields because others will sense our tone. It’s a social neuroscience concept theory of mind that states that we can somewhat intuit the emotions, intentions, and thoughts of another. Although it’s not mind reading and we often misread other’s intentions, it is what some call our sixth sense. Great leaders recognize this and create welcoming rather than repelling emotional force fields, especially toward their critics.
  2. Take the initiative.
    • With our critics and naysayers, it’s easier to keep our distance even though we know relationship tension exists. A good leader, however, will take the initiative to reach out to a critic, even though he’d prefer that if, “they have a problem, they should come to me.” A simple conversation like this can potentially ease tension… “Hi, John, just wanted to check in with you. How are things going?”
  3. Practice empathy.
    • Empathy is the ability to step inside another’s shoes and see life from their perspective. Try stepping into your critic’s shoes to see you from their perspective. You might gain new understanding about what lies at the root of their resistance. Daniel Golemen (the emotional intelligence guy) believes there are three kinds of empathy. I describe them in this way: knowing empathy (we cognitively know our critic’s distress), feeling empathy (we feel our critic’s distress), and doing empathy (we are moved to help relieve our critic’s distress). Which kind do you need to express toward your critic?
  4. Become more self-aware.
    • Related to number 1 above, becoming more self aware refers to recognizing the power of emotional contagion, the concept that explains how others catch our emotions. If you act distant or cold toward someone, they tend to mirror your behavior. If you act friendly and open toward others, they tend to respond in like kind. Neuroscientists have discovered a unique set of brain cells called mirror neurons that play a role in emotional contagion. These brain circuits prompt us to subconsciously mimic goal directed behavior we see in others. Ask yourself how you come across to your critics. Would you want them to relate to you as you do to them?

Again, who’s the person in your life or ministry that criticizes or hassles you the most? Which of these four suggestions if applied might make that relationship better?

Even though we may not feel we have the strength or emotional reserve to relate in a positive way toward our critics, the Bible tells us that every follower of Jesus has the Holy Spirit. He promises to give us everything we need to relate in wise and healthy ways toward our critics. The Apostle Paul reminded us of this when he wrote these words.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you (Rom. 8.9, NIV)

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[1] Marcuson, Leaders Who Last, kindleKloc. 1117.

Gratitude: The Brain’s Amazing Fertilizer

I live in Canada and we celebrated Thanksgiving in October while the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving in November. Although a few other countries celebrate similar holidays, Canada and the U.S. make a big deal of it. Many people in both countries approach Thanksgiving with a desire to be more grateful, at least on those holidays. It’s great that we highlight gratefulness through a holiday, but did you know that gratitude is actually good for your brain and your body? Consider what science has discovered about this amazing brain fertilizer.

gratitude 3

Gratefulness…

  1. Can give you more energy. In one research study participants kept a daily journal listing what they were grateful for. Another group recorded what annoyed them. Those who kept a ‘gratefulness’ journal had more energy and enthusiasm and were happier than the other group (Emmons & McCullough, 2003).
  2. Can help you become more other-centered. In a study by the same researchers, participants also daily journaled what they were grateful for. In addition to similar results to the above cited study, they discovered an interesting side effect. Those in the ‘grateful’ group reported that they were more inclined to help others with a personal problem. They became what is called more “pro-social” (Emmons, 2006).
  3. Can help you sleep better. Our brains and bodies need adequate sleep. When we don’t get enough sleep, our brains can’t consolidate our experiences from the day into our long term memory. So, without refreshing sleep, our memory and cognitive function suffers. A Chinese study discovered that not only did gratitude improve sleep, but decreased depression and indirectly lowered anxiety (Korb, 2012). So, start and end your day with a grateful heart for more rejuvenating sleep.
  4. Can make you physically feel better. When we are grateful, we activate brain regions associated with the feel good transmitter, dopamine.  Gratefulness also increases the mood neurotransmitter serotonin and the trust hormone, oxytocin. When dopamine is released, it evokes a “do that again” response. So, a grateful heart can feed on itself and help us want to repeat it. Its called the ‘virtuous cycle.’ We simply have to start the process by choosing to be grateful.
  5. Can help you become less materialistic. Several studies have shown that people with higher levels of gratitude are more likely to have lower than average traits of materialism (McCullough, 2002).This finding reminds of Jesus’ words, In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20.35)
  6. Can help combat negativity and the negative emotions that follow. Because our brain has five times more negative circuits than positive ones, we naturally tend to focus on the negative. It’s called the brain’s ‘negativity bias.’ When we are grateful it forces our brain to think about the positive. The Apostle Paul understood this when he wrote Phil. 4.8. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Not only does science speak to gratefulness, it also fills the pages of Scripture.

  • 1Th. 5.16   Be joyful always;  17 pray continually;  18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Psa. 100.3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
  • Col. 3.16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God

If you want to learn even more about gratitude, watch this TEDx talk on The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance and read the book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier.

An old saying about gratitude goes like this.

If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.

Don’t forget the language of gratitude today!

____

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Sources

  • Emmons, R.A. & McCullough, M.E. (2003) Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (2), pp.377–389.
  • Emmons, Gratitude and prosocial behavior: An experimental test of gratitude [Internet]. Available from: <https://www.academia.edu/365898/Gratitude_and_prosocial_behavior_An_experimental_test_of_gratitude> [Accessed 26 November 2014].
  • McCullough, Michael E. (2002) Savoring Life, Past and Present: Explaining what hope and gratitude share in common, Psychological Inquiry