A New Way to Process Conflict
"When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly." Proverbs 31:26 (MSG)
It was like we were speaking two different languages. Even though my friend and I were both talking in English, we couldn't seem to understand each other. I started the conversation with the assumption we would see things the same way, but emotions rose, opinions conflicted, and wounds were inflicted. How did we get here?
After a little cooling-off period, I called a wise, truth-telling friend. I told her the basic outline of the conversation, trying to keep it neutral. Finally I asked, "What do you think went wrong?" She astutely turned the question back to me. "What could you have done differently?"
Honestly, at first, I couldn't think of one thing. After all, I was convinced this conflict wasn't my fault! But after some reflection, God began to soften my heart and show me some big mistakes I made.
I called my friend during an extremely busy time in her life with a suggestion that would add to her overloaded schedule. Instead of being sensitive, I pushed and pushed my own agenda. As our emotions escalated, my defensiveness increased, making my responses sharp and prickly.
My wise friend who I had called for advice gently prodded, "How could you have listened more carefully? Would truly listening have made you more compassionate? How could you have responded with more grace?"
For the rest of the afternoon, God etched a new way of interacting in hard situations on my heart. This is the truth He carved: Listen with compassion. Speak with grace.
Listen with Compassion
Years ago, my pastor shared an invaluable method for re-adjusting his attitude when dealing with conflict. He asks, "Is this behavior consistent with the person's general character?"
Wow! If I had applied that question in the conversation with my friend, I would have remembered her kindness, her servant heart and her calm nature. Then I might have wondered what was changing her normal response. I could have been compassionate toward her and the stress she was under. I would've listened with a heart to serve her, instead of insisting on my own way.
At its core, listening with compassion is simply obeying the biblical commands to die to ourselves (John 12:24-25) and to consider others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Speak with Grace
Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (NIV). There is no downside to a gentle, grace-filled answer. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've often viewed responding this way as losing or giving in. That's simply not true. Needed truths can be told in very kind and gentle ways. Just think about how my wise friend treated me when I sought her advice.
Before I called my friend to ask for forgiveness and clear up the misunderstanding, I prayed for a Jesus-sized dose of compassion and grace.
Since then, I've been rehearsing "Listen with Compassion - Speak with Grace" over and over in my mind. Last week I had a chance to put it into practice when I received a difficult email. My first response was defensiveness, but then I started to repeat my new way of processing until I could hear the needs in the email with compassion and respond with grace.
I love how God gave me the chance to practice when I had time to take a breath, pause, rehearse my new motto and then respond. Life and relationships are filled with conflict, so I have no doubt I'll have a chance to practice again. Next time, I'm praying I'll be ready!
Reflect and Respond:
Who am I focused on during a hard conversation? Am I really trying to understand the person who is speaking or already working on my defense?
If you feel yourself becoming defensive, make yourself pause and put yourself in the other person's shoes.
Remind yourself that responding with kindness and grace is a win-win.
Proverbs 17:27, "A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered." (NLT)
Proverbs 18:15, "The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; for the ears of the wise seek it out." (NIV)
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