Are you struggling in your communications with others—or at least one particular person? Tired of these conversations escalating and never actually going anywhere? In order to calm conflict and cultivate effective communication, there are a few things we need to keep in mind.
Theology of The Body reminds us that we are called to live in communion. Ironically, because we live in a fallen world, building that communion requires us to learn to deal gracefully with conflict. Our natural human tendency is to either try to avoid conflict as much as possible–even when we shouldn’t–or to get caught up in it and fan the flames, but neither of these choices are options for the Christian. In fact, both are sinful. Avoiding problems we could do something about is the sin of sloth. Escalating conflict needless is the sin of wrath. Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with conflict, Christians have a third option: to be peacemakers.
To be a peacemaker is to work to restore the right order that God desires in a situation. When conflicts arise, being a peacemaker doesn’t mean just keeping a lid on things any more than it means unnecessarily escalating the tension. It means starting disagreements by seeking God’s wisdom and grace, entering conflicts with the intention of working for the good of everyone involved (including ourselves), and doing what we can to both encourage everyone involved in the conflict through the tension and toward godly solutions. The peacemaker doesn’t run from conflict or fan the flames of conflict. Rather, the peacemaker is someone who knows many different ways to actively engage and extinguish the fire so that new life can spring up from the ashes.
Here are three ways to be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict:
1. Make Breaks Count–When you “take a break” in an argument, don’t just step away and distract yourself by not thinking about the disagreement. That just sets you up to pick up the fight where you left off the next time you start addressing the issue. Taking a break is an opportunity to think differently about the disagreement; to take some time to see the other person in a more sympathetic light so you can come back to the topic with a more caring heart. When you take a break from a disagreement, spend some time in prayer reflecting on questions like, “What needs does the other person have that they are afraid I’m not willing to meet?” “Why might the other person think I’m not interested in them or their concerns?” and “How can I show them that they are important to me–even though we’re disagreeing?” Taking some time to ask questions like this helps you make breaks from conflict count and allows you to go back to the person, confident that you can approach each other again in a more compassionate and productive way
2. Look For the Positive Intention–If you’re struggling to feel sympathy for a person you’re disagreeing with, make sure to look for the need or the positive intention behind their words or actions. Doing this doesn’t excuse any bad behavior. Rather, it gives you a way to address it respectfully. For instance, you might say something like, “When you do this or say that, can you help me understand what you’re trying to do?” Then, when the other person explains their intention, you can brainstorm together about ways to meet that intention more respectfully and efficiently in the future. Looking for the positive intention behind offensive words and actions gives you a way to be sympathetic without being a doormat. It lets you work for change, respectfully.
3. Give It To God–When you’re disagreeing with someone, don’t forget to pray for them. Not, “God, please make them see that I’m right and they’re wrong!” But rather, “God, help me know how to express my concerns in a way they will hear and to really hear what they are saying so that we can both get our needs met and draw closer because of this disagreement we’re having.” Giving your disagreement to God doesn’t mean giving up your needs or, for that matter, trusting that God will sort it out while you ignore the elephant in the room. It means asking God to guide you in the steps of having more compassionate conflict, where the tension between you and the person you care about can lead to even greater closeness. Don’t try to pray away your needs or your feelings. Instead, ask God to help you find ways to meet those needs and express those feelings in a manner that reflects God’s grace, honors your concerns, and respects the dignity of the other person as well. Let God show you how to master conflict instead of just avoiding it.
For more resources on conflict management, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!