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.
The 3-R’s of Conflict Resolution.
- 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
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The Holy Spirit dwells in us to, among other things, comfort us and give us wisdom to wisely respond (v 20).
- The virgin birth and the incarnation encourage us that our faith is based upon supernatural, life changing truth (v 23).
- 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).
- Fulfilled prophecy provides evidence that Jesus was who He says He was (vss 22-23).
- Principle: Undeniable truth forms the bedrock for Christianity.
- 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?
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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- 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!
- 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
In my previous post I suggested 5 indicators that point to leaders who quickly bounce back from adversity, setbacks, and disappointment. I used the phrase “resilient leaders” to describe them. Since every leader will face difficulty, what can we do to become more resilient? Consider these practical steps you can apply in your life and leadership to ‘bounce back’ more quickly.
- Accept that fact that you will face setbacks. While not constantly looking over your shoulder, remind yourself that with leadership comes challenge and hardship. So when difficulties do come, you won’t be blindsided by them. Welcome them as a teacher to help you learn more about yourself.
- Develop the discipline of ‘metacognition.’ Metacognition is a fancy term for, ‘thinking about what you are thinking about.’ Often when faced with a difficulty we get caught up in our negative self-talk, the thought stream in our minds that all is gloom and doom. However, by monitoring our thoughts we can catch this negativity before it overwhelms our thinking and emotions. Read more here about the Monday morning blues and metacognition.
- Give yourself some extra TLC. Often when we face setbacks we drive ourselves even more to fix the problem. Certainly when a “dam” has broken, we must go into emergency mode and increase our efforts. Often, however, setbacks don’t require our immediate, extra attention. In many cases we actually need more emotional reserve and thinking clarity to wisely tackle the issue. These come only when we slow down, tend to our soul, and take care of our body. Extra time off and more rest might actually be your best choice. Remember, Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
- Stay in community. When hurt, it’s easy to withdraw to lick out wounds. However, during those times we need safe friends with whom we can process our pain. In this post I describe what to look for in a safe friend.
- Remember how emotional contagion works. Emotional contagion describes the process by which people ‘catch’ our emotions, both good and bad. When your church or organization faces a setback, make sure your body language, tone of voice, and words don’t send a defeatist message to your team. That can diminish team productivity and morale. While keeping authentic about your disappointment, communicate a hopeful, God-focused tone. They will catch the attitude you intentionally or unintentionally telegraph.
When you’ve faced a setback in your ministry, what has helped you bounce back more quickly?
Inevitably all leaders face disappointment, setbacks, and difficulty in their roles. As a pastor, I’ve faced my share at times: significant budget deficits, losing crucial staff members, people leaving the church in a huff, programs that didn’t meet expectations, and painful conflict. This side of heaven we can’t avoid the pain that leadership sometimes brings. Some leaders bounce back quickly from such adversity. Some don’t. So what does a “bounce back” leader look like? As you read the following list, ask yourself how many of these qualities would characterize your leadership when you face adversity.
The term often used for this ‘bounce back’ quality is called resilience. So we could actually call this list “The Resilient Leader.”
- Don’t lead from perpetual caution. They take reasonable risks, but don’t “bet the farm” on risky leadership options.
- Admit they hurt when they face setbacks. They are honest about how much it hurts. However, they don’t wallow in their pain. The more we ruminate over our disappointments, the more we actually strengthen the fight-flight-freeze-appease parts of our brain which in turn dampens our ability to think clearly.
- Seek to learn new insights from their setbacks. Often a setback can be a blessing in disguise, for without it we would not be open to new learning. Resilient leaders are perpetual learners.
- Keep a long haul perspective through difficulty. Failure is never fatal nor final. Rather, it prompts resilient leaders to step back and refocus on their long term goals, objectives, and core values. Read my post here that explains how we can discover our true north values.
- Refuse to let their devotional life slip. In fact, such leaders recognize that in tough times they must draw closer to Him for strength and wisdom.
When you’ve observed great leaders face disappointment and setbacks, what qualities have you seen in them?