According to the Washington Business Journal, the average manager spends 25-40% of their time dealing with workplace conflict. That’s one to two work days every single week. It’s also estimated that 60-80% of an organization’s challenges stem from strained relationships among employees…not poor time management, or weak systems and structures. Messy relationships.
We can’t get away from them, can we? At home, at work, in church — conflict is inevitable. Knowing how to be a peacemaker is as crucial to success as knowing how to operate a computer in the 21st century. Without understanding how to manage conflict effectively, the ship is sunk before it even sets sail. It doesn’t matter whether the “ship” is a marriage, business, church, HOA, or PTA…conflict is coming.
The good news about peacemaking is that it’s not just valuable, it’s learnable. My favorite book on the subject is Ken Sande’s The Peacemaker. For years it’s been my go-to resource for dealing with conflict.
Toward the beginning of the book, Sande diagrams two opposite approaches to conflict. On one end of the spectrum is “peace-faking.” People prone to peace-faking are avoiders. They suppress their emotions, flee from difficult situations, and often live in denial. On the other end of the spectrum is “peace-breaking.” These people don’t avoid; they erupt. They see an ember of disagreement and pour gasoline on it. They attack, accuse, and give full vent to their anger.
In the middle of the scale, there’s peacemaking. It’s important to understand that within the scope of peacemaking, there’s still a biblical progression from a passive response to a more active response. For instance, the heart of a peacemaker is quick to overlook an offense. As Christians we should have a gracious disposition, eager to give others the benefit of the doubt. I Corinthians 13:7 says that love is hopeful; it “bears all things and believes all things.” However, when an offense cannot be overlooked, we should seek reconciliation. We’re not called to avoid conflict, but to lovingly and truthfully confront it. Eventually, if reconciliation is unattainable, we progress according to Matthew 18:15-17. We invite godly leaders into our conflict, moving from reconciliation to mediation.
I witnessed this once at a church where a woman was being mistreated by her husband. After confronting him to no avail, she confided in a few couples in their discipleship group. The men in the group met with her husband. When that proved fruitless, they called the church elders into the situation. This group of believers became increasingly “active” in their peacemaking, involving law enforcement when the mistreatment progressed.
Sometimes being a peacemaker means turning the other cheek, and sometimes it means calling the police. Notice that while I Corinthians 13 says “love is hopeful,” it also says, “love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6).
How do we grow as peacemakers, so that we are equipped to respond to a variety of circumstances with wisdom? These are a few principles that are on the forefront of my mind when facing conflict:
Remember you’re a sinner. This is the Matthew 7 principle: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). It cannot be emphasized enough. Recognizing our sinfulness puts us in a posture to confront others with grace-centered truth. The more indignant you feel, the longer you need to consider your own sinfulness.
Get “below” your anger. A counselor taught me this principle, and the rewards have been far-reaching in my marriage and ministry. Simply put, there is always an emotion below your anger. If you can identify and verbalize it, that emotion can be the bridge to healthy conflict resolution.
For example, imagine a wife makes a joke at her husband’s expense. Everyone laughs, and inwardly he’s seething. Later that night he can start raging, “You were totally out of line! You always do this! I’m sick of you, and I’m sick of this marriage!” Or he can say, “When you made that joke, I felt small and powerless. It humiliated me.” Those two conversations will go very differently.
Trust me, identifying the emotion beneath your anger is difficult, vulnerable, and not instinctive at all…but I have seen it cut through conflict again and again in marriages, parenting, businesses, and ministries. The reason one angry comment can turn a board meeting into a war zone is because biologically our “fight” or “flight” response is intensified by anger. That’s why everyone bucks up when one person starts yelling. But sorrow has the opposite effect. It’s an inviting emotion.
If the husband in that illustration stormed off to bed, then pretended like nothing happened the next day, he’d be a peace-faker. If he screamed and threatened divorce, he’d be a peace-breaker. But in sharing his heart, he is extending an invitation to resolve the conflict. He’s choosing to be a peacemaker.
Unless it contradicts Scripture, submit to the governing authorities. As a leader, I always involve the authorities when dealing with abuse or criminal activity. Romans 13 teaches that governing authorities are a gift from God for our good, and to resist the law is to oppose God and bring judgment on yourself.
Finally, recognize that any moment can be a gospel moment. Conflict always presents an opportunity for growth, connection, and a glimpse of the gospel. I’ve seen marriage counseling sessions end with one spouse giving their life to Christ. I’ve led mediations among employees and watched people take life-changing next steps toward Christ.
But even if you don’t see the gospel in a saving way, conflict is always an opportunity for the gospel to shine because it reminds us that we are broken, and we need Jesus. Ultimately, the role of a peacemaker is to connect people to Christ because He is our true source of peace.