Editorial: Making Sense of Conflict

Editorial: Making Sense of Conflict

Making Sense of Conflict
Conflict is a normal and healthy part of life. Some valuable decision making occurs when conflict is allowed ∆ up to a point. Conflict is also an opportunity for people to grow and change, and to be creative about the way they are working or the way their group is operating.

These kinds of results depend on good conflict management and on having some understanding about why conflict occurs and what the causes are.

Roots of Conflict In the simplest terms, conflict arises out of disagreement over an issue. But deeper issues often tangle the conflict.



When power is an underlying issue, people tend to overreact to simple disagreements. Their pride, status, sense of self esteem may be at stake and the change that is proposed attacks this position.


Family Patterns

Families resolve conflict in different ways. When you are involved in a conflict with a person who has a different set of family rules, you may be facing trouble that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. This is often the case in conflict between different cultural groups.


Community Rules

Every group has rules for ordering its group life. Some of these are stated and some are not. When the rules of a group or community are opposed or challenged, conflict often results.


Personality Differences

Sometimes people simply approach life in different ways. Neither is right or wrong but if you don’t understand the other person’s way of working, conflict is hard to resolve.

Conflict Management for Leaders


Change begins with me

Look firstly at your role in and response to the conflict. How have you behaved so far? Have you thought about how you could change things by behaving differently? This is the growth aspect of conflict.


Respond Don’t React

Avoid the emotional, knee-jerk answers. Think, listen, pause, and ask questions. Count to 10! Prepare yourself.


Do It Now.

It won’t go away so deal with conflict while it is at a low level. Deal directly with the people you have the disagreement with.


Stick to the Issues

This implies that you clarify for yourself and maybe the other person as well, just what the issue is. Ask questions and listen. Then resist the temptation to open the floodgate on all your gripes and groans and don’t let the other person get away with it either. When you move away from the topic you are complicating the argument and making conflict management much more difficult.


Eliminate Blaming

This is destructive. Blaming puts people on the defensive and moves you away from the central issue. It is hard to work together on a solution when one person is blaming another and at the same time absolving him or herself


Use ‘I” language

Talk about your own views and feelings. Don’t generalise and include the views, real or imagined, of other people other than yourself. Take responsibility for your own feelings and your own behaviour.


Expand Your Options

Here’s the chance to be creative. What else could work? What are some other options? How else could we accomplish this? Look around. Work together on a new way forward.


Learn from Family

Work out for yourself how you have been ‘trained’ to handle conflict by your upbringing. Evaluate this ‘family’ method. Adapt it if necessary.



This works in two ways. The first is in taking time to practice exactly what you want to say when you meet the person or group with whom you are in conflict. The second is to try out new ways of managing conflict and to practice those with friends.



Be sure that you have clarified the issue and your point of view by writing things down. Try writing down the other person’s point of view as well. But if you want to get across your feelings, toss out the letter when it’s finished and find a more direct way of interacting.

Barriers to Interaction



These occur when a third party is brought in to ‘help’ with the dispute. They can also describe the situation when one person tells another about the disturbing actions of a third person. Triangles inhibit conflict management when they keep two people from talking to each other. It is very rare that a third person can resolve the conflict. The role of a third person should only be to get the two main parties communicating with each other directly.


I Am Right.

There are advantages to taking this position – you don’t have to listen; you don’t have to understand; you can close your mind to alternatives. But it rarely resolves a conflict. There are usually two or more sides to an issue. Listening is an important way of hearing something different.


Words That Hurt.

Once spoken they are hard to retract. The gospel calls us to treat all people as valued and loved ∆ even those we find ourselves in conflict with. Using words to bring down an opponent does nothing towards conflict management.