The tale as old as time: as long as there have been competing interests, there has been conflict. When the desires—neutral, evil, righteous, imperfect, or just—of a person or a group challenge those of another person or group, the result of that competition is a conflict.
Part one of this series connected our lack of ability to engage in healthy private conflict to the decline of civility in public discourse.
As with any experience that is universally human, myths about conflict in relationships abound! In this second of in a series, we’ll combat the talk surrounding conflict with some truth.
The Talk: We have to agree on everything to be in relationship.
The Truth: No two people agree on everything.
Healthy relationships not only learn how to navigate differences, but they also value the differences and welcome them in. Learning how to see from another’s perspective, and truly see your need for the other perspective, is the beginning of solving problems together.
The Talk: Acceptance and approval are the same.
The Truth: I can accept you as a person and not approve of your choices.
This can be especially challenging if your identity is rooted in approval or in your uniqueness (Sorry, Enneagram 3s & 4s! ❤️).
You are valuable as a person because you are a human being. In my faith, we talk about the Imago Dei. Every person bears God’s image, so every person has inherent worth. Acceptance begins there. It exists outside of your choices.
Approval is agreement or believing in favor. Here is where the rubber meets the road of belief in truth No. 1: No two people agree on everything. I disagree with you means I disagree with you. I disagree does not have to mean I don’t accept you. And really, did you need my approval to begin with?
The Talk: Conflict is always caused by someone’s malintent or error.
The Truth: Most conflicts are just the complexity of being human in an imperfect world.
Missed timing, misunderstanding, miscommunication, missteps, missed sleep, missed meal, misinterpretation—so many misses! The beginning of many conflicts is just two imperfect people dealing with imperfect circumstances in imperfect ways. Assuming the best about another person and avoiding unnecessary blaming is far down the path toward resolution.
The Talk: Resolving conflict means saying sorry.
The Truth: Resolving conflict involves a process of forgiveness, apology, changed behavior, reconciliation, restoration, and reinstatement.
Saying you’re sorry, or even offering a good, complete apology, is not the resolution of a conflict. Resolving conflict is more like a lock and dam system: there are stages, gates, and flow in between to bring closure and restore a relationship to health.
The Talk: Conflict is divisive.
The Truth: Conflict is opportunity.
Conflict is a symptom of a divide, not the divide itself. When handled with healthy responses working toward genuine peace, conflict is one of the best growth opportunities for relationships. Working through conflict well together builds trust and strengthens a relationship.
BONUS (I can’t help myself! Who doesn’t love a bonus?)
The Talk: Conflict resolution skills aren’t valuable in the marketplace.
The Truth: Communication and negotiation skills are highly valued in business.
A simple google search puts communication, negotiation, and relational skills at the top of the list for business success. A friend of mine who is the executive director of a large organization told me once, “I need people who know how to work with people. I can teach you the rest.”
Have you believed any of these myths? How has that affected your responses to conflict? How does your team work through conflict?
To learn more truth about conflict, look for the next installment in the series—Exchanging Fight or Flight: Healthy Responses to Conflict.
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