Conflict is inevitable. It often begins with something small, even trivial. People who claim that little things don't bother them have never driven a car with a fly buzzing around inside. The little things, left unresolved, can lead to bitterness, anger, and loneliness. Life would be so much easier without conflict. Conflict can be defined as "a prolonged battle, a struggle, or clash." It is a situation in which two or more parties have goals, perceived as attainable by one or the other, but not by both. Conflict brings physical disorders, psychological stress, emotional anguish, and behavioral problems. Conflict in the workplace creates tension and ulcers. Conflict in a church can bring discord, divided feelings, and damaged relationships. Unfortunately, even in churches, you find Christians shooting at each other, rather than marching side by side.
There are several misconceptions about conflict. Some believe that conflict is abnormal. However, every relationship, every business, and every church has some type of conflict since these structures are made up of people with different personalities, values, and opinions. Second, some believe that conflict and disagreement are the same. However, in actuality, two people can disagree and still not be in conflict. Third, is the misconception that conflict must be reduced or avoided in order to live a healthy life. However, at times, conflict is very healthy and beneficial. We need to recognize that conflict is not always bad. In fact, conflict can be good, because it causes growth.
How do you handle conflict situations? Do you ignore the situation? Do you let the pressure build until you explode? Do you immediately confront the problem? Do you pray for God's intervention? All of us have different ways of dealing with conflict. I have discovered four general conflict styles:
1. One style is the "Turtle” approach. Turtles are known to pull their heads in and avoid conflict as much as possible.
2. A second style is the “Teddy Bear” approach. Teddy bears want to preserve the relationship at all costs, and will take swift steps to resolve conflict, but often only putting a band-aid on deep wounds. They are quick to say "forgive & forget."
3. A third style is the “Shark” approach. A shark wants to win, no matter what the cost. Their personal goals become their priority, and they are often viewed as aggressive, domineering, and uncooperative.
4. A fourth style is the “Owl” approach. Owls believe mutually agreeable steps can be taken to reach a compromise. They believe that all the conflicting parties should be able to voice their opinions without destroying the existing relationship, and thus reach a resolution.
These are general styles of conflict management. Knowing the different styles will help you understand what kind of battle you will be fighting. If you are dealing with a shark, it could get bloody; you must hold your ground to win. If you are dealing with a turtle; you must force the issue to get them involved in the process. If you are dealing with the teddy bear, you must help him understand the objectives and encourage him to correct or admonish when needed. If you are dealing with an owl, then be prepared for open dialogue with several opinions. No one style is better than the other, and each style can be effective.
Conflict management is something that all must do. Much of our life is spent putting out little fires and praying that major fires do not break out. As Christians, there will always be times when we will be in the front line of many battles. In the midst of these conflicts, God has called us to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9; Rom 12:18 & 14:19). Peacemakers are called to bring difficult situations and people into harmony. Peacemakers are spiritual surgeons who have to cut into the conflicts (and even induce pain) to bring healing. Saint Francis of Assisi's prayer said it best, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy."
Pastor Mike Kotrla