We all have different backgrounds, different experiences, and different opinions. While this can be a positive thing, it can also often lead to conflict in our conversations and in our relationships.
The Theology of The Body reminds us that our primary mission is to create communities of love out of the relationships we have with all the people in our lives. One of the lessons we all need to learn in order to accomplish this goal is how to manage conflict, tension, and differences of opinion gracefully. Humility is the virtue that makes us open to the experience of others, even others we disagree with vehemently. Each of us has a story that deserves to be heard. Each of us is wounded in a way that deserves to be respected. The positions we hold, the choices we make, and the attitudes we have are rooted in those stories and wounds. We can’t hope to build a relationship with another person–much less change their minds–if we aren’t willing to take the time that’s necessary to understand how they got to where they are. Listening and empathizing are the two most important tools in addressing conflict gracefully.
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As challenging as it can be, we need to make sure that we’re not just “doing what comes naturally” when it comes to managing conflict. Instead, we need to invite God to be the mediator of our disagreements, being intentional about asking what virtues we need to practice in conflict to have more productive discussions, and working hard to listen to each other rather than react to each other. We need to remember that, as Catholics, we are not called to just be loving when things are going well, but to be loving–and accept the mutual growth God is calling us to–in the face of disagreements.
Here are three key ways to deal with differences gracefully:
Let God Be Your Mediator–It often doesn’t occur to us, but it’s tremendously helpful to ask God to mediate our conflicts. Anytime you feel your temperature rising, remind yourself to “STOP!” Then invite God in with a prayer that goes something like, “Lord, help us to really listen to each other and find ways to take care of each other through our disagreement and find solutions that glorify you.” Then, take a breath, and solve the problem. Remember, you are a Christian. That means we invite Christ into all we do. Don’t handle conflicts on your own. Ask God for the grace to find peaceful, loving, mutually-satisfying solutions to all the disagreements with the people in your life.
Practice Conflict Virtues–When you are dealing with conflict, remind yourself to ask, “What virtues do I need to handle this well?” Patience? Understanding? Consideration? Self-Control? Assertiveness? Take a brief moment to identify the virtues or qualities that would help you handle the present disagreement well. If that sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, it isn’t. In fact a recent study found that people who naturally practice what researchers called “virtue based problem solving” do a better job of keeping their cool in conflict, finding effective, objective solutions to conflict, and recovering more quickly from conflict. Faith and science agree. Not only is is possible to be more intentional about bringing Christian virtue into disagreements, it’s the key to peace.
Treat Resistance as a Message–We have a tendency to treat resistance as stubbornness that has to be overcome by talking even louder. Avoid this. Learn to see resistance as communication. When they other person are resistant or reluctant to your ideas or commands, what they are really saying is, “But if I do what you’re asking, how will I get to do this thing that is also important to me?” If you are getting resistance about your needs or concerns from someone else, don’t get defensive. Instead, stop and say, “Obviously, I need you to take what I’ve said seriously, but what are you trying to tell me that you need?” Then make a plan for meeting that need. You’ll be amazed how often this causes resistance or even disobedience to evaporate without the power struggle. Treat resistance as a message. Identify the need. Create a solution, and move on.
For more support in dealing with differences, explore our resources at CatholicCounselors.com!