This past week I’ve been trying to apply a new approach to conflict. Here it is, in a nutshell.
Conflict isn’t conflict unless a storm is brewing within someone. Conflict means emotion is getting stirred up, and the real problem isn’t external, but internal. So… let’s say Bob doesn’t get his report in on time, which makes me look bad. That’s not the conflict. The conflict is my anger vs. his defensiveness. The guiding principle here, which many a mommy has tried to impress upon her children, is “I am only responsible for my own attitude, words, and actions.”
So: When faced with a conflict, with mommy’s maxim firmly in place, I begin with a question to myself:
“Is this conflict located within me, or within others, or both?”
And then I do these two things. Or try to.
1. I take responsibility for myself. When the storm rages within us, stirred up by the attitude, words, and actions of another, we tend to hold them responsible for our own peace and happiness. But if the conflict is located within me, even just a little, I need to realize the person “causing” us the angst isn’t responsible to fix what’s broken in me. They are only responsible for their own attitude, words, and actions. Sure, it would be nice if they apologized, admitted their part of the problem, and took steps to fix it, but I am the only one that can deal with the emotional storm within myself. I can’t afford to wait for people or my circumstances to still the storm in me. Heaven ain’t on earth, so I’m learning not to hold my breath. A grudge is what grows when I put my healing on hold until I get what I think I need from the one who hurt me and blame them for my lack of progress.
2. I let the other person take responsibility for themselves. If the conflict is located within someone else, it’s not my job to fix them, set them straight, or make them like me. Why? Because I am only responsible for my own attitude, words, and actions. Now, my attitude, words, and actions may in fact become useful to them as they try to calm their own inner storm—maybe I apologize, take responsibility for my part, and extend a hand of friendship. But taking that hand or not is ultimately their decision. Which means I must let go of the “need” I feel to fix what isn’t mine to fix—namely, that person’s attitude, words, and actions. I do my part, then give the Holy Spirit the room he needs to work, and work he will.
Easier said than done. Jesus, pour your Spirit out on my ego needs, so I don’t keep projecting them onto others.
What do you think of this approach to conflict?
What is God teaching you about conflict in your life?