“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
As individuals with different needs, ideas, beliefs, values, and goals, conflict is an unavoidable and complicated phenomenon. While there are numerous definitions and explanations of conflict, I suggest that conflict occurs where there is an absence of peace.
We experience conflict everyday of our lives at all levels of society. Conflict can exist between two or more people, across organizations, and internally within one’s self. Ultimately, conflict is tension between individuals or organizations that share interdependence with each other and who disagree on an issue that threatens their belief system, goals, or values in some way.
Perception is an important aspect of conflict that becomes the root of tension in most cases. In the book, Working Through Conflict, Folger, Poole, and Stutman (1997) argue that individuals in conflict “perceive that they have incompatible goals or interests” (p. 4). A lot of the time people’s perceptions are inaccurate or misinformed and conflict could be avoided through better communication and greater understanding of the issue, individual, or circumstance. In the book, Mediating Dangerously: The Frontiers of Conflict Resolution, Cloke (2001) makes an important statement regarding perceptions and conflict management: “Our conflicts begin and end with us . . . they have little to do with our opponents” (pp. 8-9). Our perceptions and attitudes toward other people and ourselves are responsible for most conflict we experience.
Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, has a lot to say about conflict that can help us deal with and reduce the conflict in our personal and professional lives. In Proverbs 20:3 Solomon says, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Notice, it doesn’t say you should ignore strife; it says you should avoid it. If there is friction in a relationship, you have to deal with it. Ignoring it will not make the problem go away. You have to work to resolve it. However, you’re much better off if you can avoid the conflict altogether before it becomes a problem. I want to suggest three ways from the book of Proverbs that will help you handle conflict. Some of these ideas will help you avoid conflict, others will help you resolve it. Either way, it will reduce the amount of stress in your life and maximize your relationships.
Delay your reaction
Proverbs 14:29 says, “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” A delayed reaction will give you time to evaluate the situation, and help you determine if it really is worth discussing. Maybe after thinking it over you will realize that you over-reacted. Maybe you’ll discover you didn’t have all the facts. Maybe you’ll discover that things weren’t what they seemed to be.
Say it gently firmly
When you’re in conflict with another person, you don’t have to put heat on your words in order to have impact. We need to keep in mind what Solomon said in Proverbs 29:11, “A fool gives full vent to his anger but a wise man keeps himself under control.” If you’re having conflict with someone, say what you need to say. Make an effort to say it gently – you don’t have to be mean about it. And make an effort to say it firmly without threats or ultimatums, simply tell the other person your perspective on the problem – Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Strive for a solution
If you want to resolve the conflict in your life, you have to be willing to stop dwelling on the problem, and begin focusing on a solution. Solomon said in Proverbs 15:18, “A hot tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.” Strive for a solution to conflict. You don’t have to keep reminding the other person what they did wrong. Once they have taken steps to make peace, you have to be willing to let it go.
There they are, from the book of Proverbs and still relevant for today, three ways to help you resolve everyday conflict.