3 Tips on Handling a Disagreement You Might Be Missing


3 Tips on Handling Disagreement You Might Be Missing

Rachel Reider

10 mins

I used to be terrible at handling conflict. Like, really terrible.

Disagreements and switching friend groups to resist reconciling were pretty normal for me. Eventually, it became necessary (OK, professionally required of me) to get better skills.

My first boss made me go to an active listening training class. That sounded terrible, but it was so significant for me. Eventually, I became a facilitator and have been leading classes for almost a decade. As I grew through my bad habits, I began to find other personal practices that became crucial for me in conflict resolution that I rarely hear taught.

I always knew how I handled conflict mattered to God, but I was missing critical skills to change. I would get stuck feeling guilty for being “bad” at it. Or worse, I’d try to do the “right things,” but it felt inauthentic because I still felt resentful or unresolved after doing them.

A few key changes slowly transformed my conflict from regularly disastrous to more frequently positive. (I definitely still have those terrible moments, believe me.)

3 Tips on Handling a Disagreement You Might Be Missing

Whether you’re in active conflict with someone or you’re non-confrontational and avoiding, there are healthy steps you can start to take. Here are what I believe to be three Biblical conflict resolution strategies for taking the sting out before it even begins.

3 Tips on Handling Disagreement You Might Be Missing

Vent First (to the Right Person)

Part of why conflict is hard is because we’re emotional creatures. Yes, even you who swear you’re not emotional. Even the most steady and unflinching among us have triggers, sore spots from the past, or pet peeves that can set us off or shut us down.

Emotions exist for a reason, but they’re not meant to control us. Learning to feel and name emotions is a powerful skill that enables a wildly healthier life—but you have to do it in the right way and with the right person.

I found I should rarely share my emotions right off the bat with the person the emotions are about. You may not believe in God, but I’ve discovered he’s the best first person to take on all conflict or painful emotions, being the one who made us (and knows our thoughts anyway). So, I journal. Writing is a helpful way for me to talk to God, but you can pray in your mind, out loud, screaming in the car—anything works. The goal is to get my completely unfiltered reactions out in a safe place.

3 Tips on Handling a Disagreement You Might Be Missing

I never knew why it was so powerful until a counselor told me, “Any feeling left unfelt never goes away.” If we don’t honestly admit our feelings, we can’t get past it. It keeps popping up.

We can prepare the most mature, well-intended speech ever, but it will inevitably come out if we’re still seething with hurt deep down. Naming it honestly without editing helps us move through it. In fact, admitting and embracing whatever we’re feeling is usually the only way to get through it.

No matter how hard we try to ignore it, put on a brave face, or grit our teeth and pretend we’re okay with something, it won’t disappear until it’s fully acknowledged and dealt with honestly. So don’t avoid it or deny it. Venting is incredibly therapeutic, and doing that with God is the safest place to start.

Whenever I do, it takes the heat off so I don’t bring the full force of it to another person with their own emotions to sort through, too. I can explode freely with God so that whatever is inside can come out in a safe way.

God already knows what’s in there. I might as well be honest so he can walk me through it (Psalm 139:23-24, Philippians 4:6-7). It’s amazing how often one raw journaling session can relieve the intensity and reveal another perspective that completely reorients me in a healthier way.

It goes even better when you ask God what he has to say on the topic after you get it all out. As you journal, look for the triggers. Try to identify why it’s so inflaming. You’ll need it for #3.

Vow to Be on the Same Team

The other reason a disagreement can be so uncomfortable is because feeling at odds with someone immediately creates a sense of division that goes against how we’re wired. Real or perceived, big or small, when someone offends us, something in us feels threatened, and our minds suggest a narrative intended to self-protect. We start to think things such as…

They’re not for you. They don’t understand you. They don’t get it. They only care about themselves. They’re not worth it.

And on and on and on.

Some of that might be true in extreme cases, but in my experience, it’s not often. Usually, something in us (our pride, hope, expectations, self-esteem, etc.) is wounded, and we just want to feel better. So, we try to distance ourselves from the things that make us feel bad and make it a point to villainize those involved that threaten our security.

The problem with that is that we were made to be connected to each other. We need others to live fully, so learning to deal with imperfect people who regularly trigger the wounded parts of our imperfect selves is an unfortunate requirement. We have to rewrite that narrative with the goal of reconciliation in ways like…

That hurt, but maybe there’s a good explanation. They disagree with me, but maybe there’s a misunderstanding or something I can learn. They don’t see it, but maybe we can find common ground if we keep our cool and keep talking.

3 Tips on Handling a Disagreement You Might Be Missing

We’ll never agree with everyone on everything, but we can still be for each other even when we disagree. We have to vow to it. If unity depends on total agreement, we’ll never get there. But if it can depend on respecting the fact that God values each of us in our incredibly broken states (the Bible says so in many places), and we can value each other too, then we have a chance.

I believe conflict can be dramatically disarmed if we start the following argument with our spouse, friend, boss, kid, or whoever by saying, “Hey, before we start, I just want to say we’re on the same team.”

Vulnerability Is Actually a Strength

I’ll be honest: I hate being vulnerable. It’s not a strength of mine, and that’s the reason my conflicts most often go badly. I power up (with anger and bitterness) instead of opening up (with humility and vulnerability), which always backfires.

Of course, there are cases of people abusing vulnerability, but most of the time, if you approach an argument from a humble place like, “Hey, I’ve been feeling overlooked (or hurt or disrespected), and that’s causing me to pull away (or lash out). I know that’s unfair to you, so could we try again?” It surprisingly goes a lot better than, “You always *%$#! __, __!” or shutting down and avoiding them. Who knew?

3 Tips on Handling a Disagreement You Might Be Missing

Whether we like to admit it or not, it’s not likely the other person is always 100% at fault. We probably carry some responsibility for causing hurt or confusion but owning that will only break down more walls and allow love to be more present in the conversation. Jesus warns us of our constant desire to be hypocritical and pretend this isn’t true.

Normally, if you’ve done #1 well, you’ve discovered what’s beneath your initial heated reaction. You’ve found a deeper reason for the intensity. When you find it, you can heal the conflict on the surface and the deeper root beneath it.

If you’ve started skimming at this point because you’d rather stab yourself in the eye with a corkscrew than “talk about your feelings,” I get it. An easier on-ramp can be as simple as asking the other person for more information instead of sharing yours. Even quietly listening instead of shutting down is a humble act of vulnerability that can begin to build a bridge.

Many of us don’t know how to be vulnerable because feelings aren’t natural for us. My first boss told me I didn’t feel (like, at all) and sent me to counseling. Apparently, there is a vast spectrum of emotions beyond “happy, mad, annoyed, or fine.” (I had no idea.) Facing what I thought were “negative” emotions felt pointless, but when we limit ourselves from experiencing the less pleasant emotions, we also limit our capacity for experiencing the beautiful ones.

When we’re empowered to identify our feelings and move through them, we can (better) handle the whole spectrum without freaking out when the hard ones come. Now that I don’t lose myself in painful emotions or shut them down because they feel too hard, I can experience more great feelings, too. Even better, disagreement rarely creates the dread or bad outcomes it used to bring.

Conflict is still painful sometimes. It still feels like mild torture when I have to admit something vulnerable in these settings. But as soon as I do, the conversation changes for the better. And I change for the better, too.

Why We Choose the Harder Better Road

If these biblical conflict resolution strategies sound intimidating, you’re not alone. Navigating it can be difficult, humbling, and messy, and that’s exactly why I just kept finding new friends as soon as any relationship brought some sort of complication.

But it was actually more complicated and painful to keep ignoring conflict.

It doesn’t mean that every conflict-resolving conversation has gone perfectly for me or that every relationship is reconciled and going swimmingly. But even if it’s not, I’m always better when I press into these. It reminds me that the relationship is still worth it and strengthens the relationship when we get to the other side.

(Also, it’s easier than constantly switching friend groups and having more people to avoid).

Disclaimer: This article is 100% human-generated.

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At Crossroads, we major on the majors and minor on the minors. We welcome a diverse community of people who all agree that Jesus is Lord and Savior, even if they view minor theological and faith topics in different ways based on their unique experiences. Our various authors embody that principle. Therefore, there are many viewpoints expressed in our articles that don’t necessarily fit with the opinions of our leadership. We are okay with that. And we think God is ok with that, too. The foundation of everything we do is a conviction that accepting Jesus as who he said he was leads to a healthy life of purpose and adventure—and eternal life with God.

Rachel Reider
Meet the author

Rachel Reider

Sleep-deprived but smitten wife and mama. Travel junkie. Accidental button presser. Aspiring world changer. Always in the mood for Indian food.

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