Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
What goes through your mind when you hear the word, “Confrontation?” Do you think, “Oh no… here we go again. It’s going to be a fight and it’s going to get ugly.” Nevertheless, having a good understanding of the process can result in a win-win orientation and still allow all parties to both explain and advocate for their positions. One key is the approach you choose and this will set the tone for everything moving forward. Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” There is a difference between someone who is a peace-keeper and someone who is a peace-maker. Being a peacekeeper implies a more passive and neutral stance that does not necessarily result in problem resolution. However, a peacemaker proactively looks for opportunities to move beyond the source of conflict and helps ensure that the relationship itself remains intact.
The word confront derives from two separate Latin words: com, which means “together” and frons, which means forehead. The literal translation therefore is, “to stand in front of an issue with someone.” This understanding does not necessarily convey hostility. Unsuccessful confrontation is often an in-your-face monologue with a desired outcome of power and control. It is full of criticism, sarcasm, rage, threats, manipulation, shame, jealousy, and silence. In his Epistle, Peter said, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pet. 1:15). This exhortation runs counter to how many view the term. On the other hand, successful confrontation is a face-to-face dialogue between two parties, more often than not, resulting in a resolution to the problem and an improved relationship.
If another person’s behavior or a particular situation is bothering you, then you must own the decision about how to handle it. Unskilled confronting can lead to negative outcomes, as well as additional problems such as emotional woundedness, a false sense of success or resolution, uncontrolled outbursts of anger or frustration, relational failure, aggressiveness where an individual’s rights take precedent over another’s, and outright bullying. Before confronting someone and attempting conflict resolution, choose to be a listener first. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him,” and Proverbs 15:28 reminds us that, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.” This sounds a lot like the old adage, “think before you act.”
You must be careful about pre-judging someone’s intentions and motives. Many will make what amounts to a fundamental “attribution error.” In other words, there can be a tendency to either over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors that are observed in others (dispositional factors) or under-emphasize the role and power of social and environmental influences (situational factors). Before looking outward at what you believe are the other person’s faults or shortcomings, consider the following:
- Look upwards – ask God what He wants in the situation and especially what He wants from you.
- Look inwards – ask transparent questions about your own role in the conflict.
- Ask yourself what is upsetting you?
- Confront your own feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or inadequacy.
- Ask yourself what the core issue or root cause really is – the presenting problem is almost never the real problem, but a symptom of something that might represent a deeper matter of the heart (e.g., the fear of failure or rejection, past trauma, etc.).
- What are the potential consequences of the problem/issue or in pursuing a particular course of action?
- What needs to change? Why? How? Who?
Once you have been honest with yourself, then you will be in a much better place to have the necessary conversation. Here are a few thoughts when the time is appropriate to engage the person or situation:
- Gather the facts and don’t allow your emotions to lead or cloud the issue(s).
- Communicate your expectations and don’t take for granted that the other person automatically understands what you need or want.
- Verify any assumptions so you have accurate information and feedback and are less likely to draw premature conclusions.
- Speak to and address the behavior that concerns you and avoid attacking the person.
- Focus on resolving the issues rather than making the other person or the relationship the primary problem.
- Remember that both the message (your content) and the delivery (your process) are critical to effective communication. The point here is that it’s not always enough to have the right answer. How the information is convyed can go a long way as to whether or not the message is ever heard or received.
- Strive toward understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and ideas on the matter (without criticism) before attempting to negotiate or compromise on the issue(s).
- Endeavor to be responsive and not reactive when discussing issues or receiving feedback about your behavior from the other person – Proverbs 15:1 tells us that, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Yes, there will be tribulation in this world, even with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Whether you find yourself facing conflict or strife within your marriage, home, place of work, or faith community, how you approach the problem can make all the difference in the world. Do you desire to be called a son or daughter of God? Be a determined peacemaker (Matt. 5:9) and allow the words of Paul to be the compass in the middle of the storm:
“And so those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving each other, whosoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”
(Col. 3:12-15, 17).
Eric Scalise, Ph.D., is the former Vice President for Professional Development with the American Association of Christian Counselors, as well as a current consultant and their Senior Editor. He is also the President of LIV Enterprises & Consulting, LLC, and a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with more than 36 years of clinical and professional experience in the mental health field. Specialty areas include professional/pastoral stress and burnout, combat trauma and PTSD, marriage and family issues, leadership development, addictions, and lay counselor training. He is an author, a national and international conference speaker, and frequently consults with organizations, clinicians, ministry leaders, and churches on a variety of issues.