Conflict in relationships is going to happen. If we can't avoid conflict within ourselves, how are we possibly going to avoid it with others. Conflicts happen for all kinds of reasons: we have different values and points of view, we get upset when things aren't going the way we think they should and others do things that anger, disappoint or painfully bring back the past just to name a few.

Like anger, conflict is not necessarily bad. What matters is how we handle the conflict. Do we use it to resolve differences? Do we work on finding mutually satisfactory solutions? Do we try to overcome the hurts of the past? Do we use it to know and understand the people we care about more?

The Beauty of Conflict

The Three Keys to Conflict

  1. When it's about the dishes, it's not about the dishes.
  2. It's easy to get stuck. Justification is seductive.
  3. Speaking responsibly. It's can be like learning a new language.

Solutions to Conflict

I share who I really am and how I really feel. I admit my mistakes. I share my needs. I take off my armor of justification and defensiveness. I put down my weapons of blame and accusation.

I own my needs, emotions and choices. I recognize the contributions I've made to the conflict.

We need to ask, listen and then express. We need to stop making statements and start asking questions. We need to find out what's under the surface. What are the emotions and needs of the other people involved? What's important to them? With that in mind we can express what's important to us.

We need to embrace reality and accept what we can't control. We can't control how the other person feels or behaves. We have to be willing to accept the losses change requires.

We have to define what the boundaries for acceptable behavior together are. What am I OK with? What am I not OK with? We have to be able to say "No" to have heathy relationships.

Changing the Outcomes of Conflict

While conflict is inevitable, destructive conflict is not. Conflict can make it possible to talk about what matters and deepen or improve relationships. What happens in conflict depends on what we choose to do.

Don't Hear Attack

Practice listening for what people are trying to say, even if they are saying it very badly. Listen "past" the attack. "If I wasn't hearing the attack right now, what would I be hearing?" If I'm tempted to go on the attack, I can think about how to answer the question: "If I said this without attack what would it sound like?"

Hearing attack is very seductive. It distracts us from hearing what's needed which is the most important thing. Attack is a bad strategy for trying to meet a need.

Develop Curiosity in Difficult Situations

We need to practice listening deeper in easier everyday conversations to be ready for the harder ones. We can do this by practicing and developing the skill of "curiosity." We practice asking "What is going on here?" and "What haven't I noticed yet?"

We need to learn to translate "attacking statements" into useful answerable questions.

Listening Better

The differences in our perspectives makes it difficult to remember that the other person may be right, too. Most of the time each of us is partially right in that we see one part of something, and they see another. Both things are true and somehow both fit together in the bigger picture. Thinking about 4 questions in the heat of a conversation can help us minimize (not eliminate) conflict.

  1. What's going on in their world at the moment? What are their needs, interest and concerns right now?
  2. What's important to them at this time? Do they need listening to, some support, feeling heard by you or just some encouragement?
  3. Am I listening to understand or listening to defend? I don't have to agree, but I do need to more fully understand before I respond. Reacting has never been my friend.
  4. Have I clearly communicated my perspective? People are not mind readers, what I see may not be "seen" from their point of view. I do need to communicate my side, my values and my boundaries frequently, but I need to do it after hearing the other side out and do it respectfully.

Questions for Journaling

  • How was conflict handled at home when you were a kid?
  • How is conflict typically handled in your home now?
  • What conflicts keep coming up over and over again for you?
  • How do you start, contribute to or maintain conflict with those around you?
  • What do you want to do this week to practice handling conflict better?


Clair Canfield, The Beauty of Conflict (TEDx USU)

Dana Caspersen, Conflict is a Place of Possibility (TEDx Hackney Women)

CapstonePublishing, How to reduce conflict and build better relationships

Isaac Lidsky, What reality are you creating for yourself? (TED)

Verses for the Week

Proverbs 15:18
Hot tempers cause arguments, but patience brings peace.

Proverbs 26:20
Where there is no fuel a fire goes out; where there is no gossip arguments come to an end.

Matthew 18:21-22
21Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" 22"No, not seven times," Jesus replied, "but seventy times seven!"

Romans 12:17-18
If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.

Matthew 7:12
Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets.

Matthew 5:9
God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children!

Colossians 3:13-14
Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.

Leviticus 19:18
Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.

Ephesians 4:31-32
Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.

Prayer for the Week

Help me this week to pay attention to how I think about and respond to conflict. Help me stop my negative trains of thought, ask myself better questions and have empathy for and curiosity about the other people involved. Help me to remember my part, admit my mistakes and limitations. Help me be a better me, not only for me, but for the people who are around me. Amen.