I had just gotten back to the east coast from coordinating my uncle’s post-rehab care in Phoenix. I was tired and emotionally drained as I read an e-mail from my supervisor asking me to stay late the following day to interview candidates for our admin job. I responded to my supervisor with a very direct and factual e-mail about what my office hours were and what my life was like after hours (owning a business). He was angry for hours before finally calling me in to his office. At that point, he began to tell me that my e-mail had rubbed him the wrong way, that they had been very “accommodating” of my schedule this past year, and that he didn’t appreciate the tone of my e-mail. I responded only to what was appropriate: I apologized for any “tone” that might have come across and reiterated my inability to stay late. What could have been a larger argument was toned down because I chose to practice emotionally healthy habits in conflict.
Conflict is one of the hardest things for people to handle. In fact, I’m still looking for ways to improve my conflict resolution skills. But here are three ways I am always trying to improve my handling of one-on-one conflict:
- Listen actively. This means not just hearing what the other person says, but listening with your heart. I didn’t speak much in the meeting with my supervisor because I wanted to listen to what he was saying, and because I didn’t want to say something I would regret. When I listened with my heart, I realized that I had hurt him with my directness. How did I know? Because when I apologized and assured him that I was not upset with him, he was fine! James 1:19 says that everyone should “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” You can’t talk and listen at the same time, so make listening your priority. And once you’ve listened, when you do speak, don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify what the other person means. Listen to understand, not to respond.
- Fight fair. Stay focused on the topic at hand. “You always do this” is not a fair statement about what is happening now. Make sure that you only address the present, not the past. When my boss noted that they had been so “accommodating” of my schedule over the year, I wanted to respond with some snarky comment. But I quickly realized that was not the issue, so I let it go. Part of fighting fair is also remaining as calm as possible. Do you like dealing with angry people? Few people do. No one likes to be attacked, physically or verbally. So treat people the way you want to be treated, especially in conflict. As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Fight fair by staying focused on the present and remaining calm.
- Consider your part. It takes two to tango, and two to engage in conflict. Is this the third or fourth person that has mentioned that you’ve hurt them in one specific way? Then perhaps what they are saying is truth. How are you feeling? This also affects how we treat others, so be aware of yourself! With my supervisor, I realized that being emotionally drained, I should not have responded via e-mail but instead I should’ve just spoken with him. I also realized that I was too direct and lacked positive emotion in my response. I even thought about ways I could have worded my e-mail that wouldn’t have come across so strong. I noted the latter to my boss as we were talking. Matthew 7:5 reminds us that we all have faults and issues; so before we start in on someone else’s, we need to check our own.
Conflict is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be unhealthy! In fact, conflict is one of the healthiest things we can experience—if we practice emotionally healthy habits. So fight fair, listen actively, and consider your part the next time you have a conflict—and watch yourself grow exponentially!