Let me tell you, conflict is ugly and messy. I personally witnessed this last week because of a major breakdown in communication with a close family friend.

The older I get, the more I come to hate conflict. But nonetheless, conflict is a part of life. There is truly no getting away from this fact. As a business owner, an employee, a family member, you can be certain that you’ll face relational conflicts. No human model exists that will totally eliminate disagreements. However, the tension that comes from conflict can be healthy and beneficial to growth, if and only you deal with it appropriately.

My favorite teacher explained conflict resolution this way, regardless which side caused the problem, the solution should always be the same:

First, approach the person face-to-face and address the conflict. Don’t gossip or involve a third or fourth person. If you do, the problem will likely worsen.  Adding people to the conflict will deepen the issue and cause separation in the relationship.

Second, go to the person quickly and clear the air. Drop what you are doing. Get the ball rolling. You must understand that interpersonal relationships are far more important than who is right and who is wrong. Of course there is no guarantee that the offended person will engage with you. But nonetheless, we should feel obligated to make every effort to clean up our side of the street.

And always remember, when you have done something wrong, go and make it right. When someone else has wronged you, you still take the first step.

I’m fairly sure several of you are thinking; “Now wait just a minute. If your friend has something against you, you go to him? And if you have something against your friend, you go to him?” This has you going to them in both cases, whether I’m at fault, or they are at fault.  

When I first was taught this idea, I remember thinking: What a bunch of crap!

Remember this, true leaders don’t ignore conflict. They manage it by creating an environment where people are empowered to work through relational distress on a one-on-one basis. Only after failing to resolve the conflict on a one-on-one basis should others be allowed to enter the conflict, and then only for the purpose of bringing about resolution. Conflicts can’t be avoided. But they can be managed. And a wise leader will always apply their self to learning how to do just that.

As I was thinking about the subject of conflict during the last week, I ran across this summary of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sermon. It was delivered on Christmas day in 1957 to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was  titled, Loving Your Enemy.Through the course of his sermon, Dr. King suggested three ways by which we can do just that.

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. Such forgiveness doesn’t mean that we ignore the wrong committed against us. Rather, it means that we will no longer allow the wrong to be a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness, according to King, “is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”

Second, we must recognize that the wrong we’ve suffered doesn’t entirely represent the other person’s identity. We need to acknowledge that our opponent, like each one of us, possesses both bad and good qualities. We must choose to find the good and focus on it.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate our opponent, but to win his or her friendship and understanding.

I believe Charles H Spurgeon who wrote in Gleaning Among the Sheaves sums things up well when he said:

“Conflicts bring experience, and experience brings that growth in grace which is not to be attained by any other means.”