Conflict is inevitable. The end result is not. How we handle conflict can make or break our careers, our friendships, our families, and our relationship with God. Knowing why we engage in conflict can help us to determine the purpose for it and the way to address it. I have found four overarching causes of conflict, what I call the 4 P’s: Power, Preservation, Purpose and Perception. I’d like to explore each one of these in the next several posts.
Power. Power is our desire to control people and circumstances. Because we all have a will, the assertion of our will eventually infringes on the will of others. This is not necessarily a problem if two people are focused on the issue that must be resolved. Our wills become a problem, however, when we are unwilling to sacrifice them, when we make the fulfillment of our desires the ultimate goal rather than the resolution of the conflict at hand. There are times that we should stand strong, refuse to back down, and assert ourselves for a just cause. All too often, however, the assertion of our wills is over “who should do the dishes this time” or “I don’t like my bosses way of filing performance evaluations.” Many of us just don’t like to be wrong and we will avoid admitting it at all costs.
So how can we address the first P (Power):
- Examine your motives. Why are you engaging in the conflict? Is this battle really worth fighting? What will be at stake if you lose? Your reputation, your rights, your sense of control? Are you focused on resolution or on winning? Being aware of your motives will help you to gage whether or not you should take your stand.
- Be willing to yield. We usually enter conflict thinking that we are in the right. Still, we must maintain a teachable attitude or else we fall back into arguing just to win a fight, not to resolve a difficult situation. Remember, your perspective is only one side of the coin. If you cannot acknowledge that other people might have a different view, one from which you could learn, then you will be missing out on the true value of conflict. Iron sharpens iron.
- Acknowledge authority. I think we all struggle with this one. Who is in charge? Ultimately, conflict is resolved by one person submitting to the will of another. This is why we have government, family, church, and business structure. We all answer to someone. If you are ever in doubt, submit to the higher authority. Ex: if your spouse asks you to do something illegal, submit to the society’s rules. If the government wants you to do something immoral, submit to God’s authority. I recently had someone ask me, “So what if I could get in trouble either way.” Well, then decide which side you’d rather get in trouble for following! It is important to note that most people’s final authority is SELF. If this is true for you, remember that in conflict, you might win the battle for SELF, but the casualties of war will leave you all alone with only your SELF. In that sense, you’ve lost either way.
- Clean up after yourself. Conflict has a way of leaving a mess of hurt feelings, broken trust, and defeated spirits in its wake. We usually focus on power in the midst of conflict, but we can also have power in the aftermath of conflict by taking the initiative to restore, revitalize, and empower those with whom we have had the conflict. The message must be clear. “I value you, despite our disagreement.” Perhaps you have been beaten up by conflict and that message has not been conveyed. Find another source who can fill you up and let you know that you are loved!
Questions: What have you found to be helpful when dealing with the inevitable power struggles that arise in relationships? How have you handled your own desire for power as it confronts that desire in other?