How to resolve conflict in an explosive culture

If there’s one thing our current political environment has taught us it’s that conflict is unavoidable.

Conflict happens between husbands and wives, parents and kids, brothers and sisters, Democrats and Republicans, employees and supervisors, CEOs and boards, pastors and leaders in the church, people on social media, and a myriad of other ways.

Sadly, in our world of instant messages and social media, conflict is just one click or thoughtless tweet away. Like the spark that ignites a massive wildfire, conflict can combust into a fight that destroys relationships, careers and everything in its path.

And in this explosive culture in America – where motives are challenged endlessly, criticism is ruthless, cynicism is celebrated and anyone in a position of influence is under detailed scrutiny – conditions are ripe for conflict to erupt.

Now, some people might be so used to living in conflict that they don’t even notice it anymore, but studies show unresolved conflict has serious consequences. For example, a recent survey by Harvard Business Review conducted with 83 senior managers revealed these executives estimated their companies wasted over $7,000 on unproductive office conflict … every day. They acknowledged another $8,000 were wasted daily due to people ignoring “important problems because they want to avoid conflict.”

So why do people not resolve conflict? Why do they let their anger simmer into a rage, privately or publicly? I believe this occurs because they just do not know the actions to take to see it resolved.

The truth is there’s no easy way to resolve conflict, but over the years I have learned there are some actions we can take to confront it and live through it. Here are three steps you can take today to resolve conflict in your life:

Be Willing to Take Responsibility

We know that people do not want to live in conflict and want to see it resolved, yet no one wants to take responsibility for it.

Let me encourage you to be the one to take responsibility for conflict. It may not be easy, and you may have to swallow your pride. But if you are honest with yourself, do you really want to continue feeling the way you feel while you could resolve it and live in personal freedom? I know the answer, and I think you do as well.

While the situation or the relationship may never be the same, taking responsibility for the conflict is a long-term decision for good. The situation or relationship may not be life-long, but the effects of unresolved conflict can follow you a long time.

Choose to Forgive and Let it Go

We can learn, practice and teach what Jesus says about forgiveness. When his disciples asked him how many times they should forgive their neighbor – “seven times?” – he said, “No, not seven times, but seven times seventy!” (Matt 18:22, NLT). By this Jesus didn’t mean we were to literally forgive each other 490 times, and on the 491th occasion we’re free to hold a grudge. He was essentially telling his disciples to forgive and let it go. Just as God freely forgives us, so are we to forgive others.

By the way, forgiveness doesn’t just set the person who has wronged us free – it also sets us free from the crippling effects of resentment and anger. In fact, when we practice forgiveness, we can become conduits of reconciliation with and for others. Encourage others to take their next step and to be willing to take responsibility for conflict. Encourage them to set an appointment to deal with it, through a phone call if appropriate or in person if needed. If things are difficult, appeal for a third person to help you resolve it. Just resolve it. Forgive and let it go.

Resolve to Live as a Peacemaker

While America may applaud those who yell the loudest, you need to live as a peacemaker.

Jesus said, “The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9, HCSB). America has few people who are willing to live like this, and speak words of truth with kindness rather than going on a social media rant that fans the fire of conflict. We need more peacemakers. Resolve to live as one.

We are living in a time when the godly virtues of harmony, self-control and gentleness are mocked and derided. Stop letting the politics of today poison you. Refuse to take on the anger that others feel. This is your life to live. Refuse to live your life in conflict.