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Improving Your Conflict Resolution Skills

Five Bible-based steps to resolve conflicts and disputes

Doug Britton, MFT

Page Summary
Summary: Five Bible-based steps to resolve conflicts and disputes respectfully and wisely. Practical biblical advice on how to pray about the situation, pray about your attitude, talk and listen with respect, and end the conversation well. These Christian principles apply in all areas of life.

Introduction — Everyone has conflicts and disputes

Everyone experiences conflict from time to time — at home, on the job, in church, at school, and while traveling. Sometimes we deal with conflict with loud, angry arguments. Other times with quiet resentment. In this Bible study, you will read biblical guidelines for handling conflict and disputes.

Related: Victory Over Grumpiness, Irritation and Anger

Step 1: Pray — Ask God if you should bring up a problem

How can you know when to talk and when to be quiet?

The Bible says at times it’s best to remain silent. If you bring up everything on your mind, you will drive people away.

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12)

Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. (Proverbs 12:16)

On the other hand, some topics ought to be discussed — even if they produce tension. In fact, there are times when a rebuke or exhortation is in order.

If you talk as a friend, you can discuss painful things.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5-6)

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

Sometimes it is hard to know which principle to follow, whether to bring something up or to remain silent. These questions will help you decide:

  • What are my motives?
  • Is this really my problem? What is my part in it? Did I help set it up?
  • Have I been loving and respectful?
  • How important is this topic?
  • How important is this issue to God?
  • Have I been a nag?
  • Should I give grace a chance?

Step 2: Pray — Ask God for a respectful attitude

Pray for a spirit of love, forgiveness and humility.

Pray for help to speak politely and respectfully.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

Pray to understand that conflicts are normal. Expect problems. Everyone (including you) is imperfect.

Ask for wisdom to see your part in the problem.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

Notice that Jesus gave us three steps in Matthew 7:3-5:

  • First, take the plank out of your own eye.
  • Once you take the plank out of your own eye you can see clearly. (It’s impossible to see clearly while the plank still is in your eye.)
  • Once you confront your own sins, you can remove the speck from the other person’s eye.

Pray for a servant’s heart. Make it a goal to minister to the other person as you talk.

Pray to have an eternal perspective.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

Related: Respect others — even if they have not earned respect

Step 3: Start the conversation wisely

Put a lot of thought and care into how you begin your conversation so you can set a positive tone for all that follows. Don’t say the first words that come to your mind.

Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Proverbs 29:20)

Introduce your subject in a way that makes it as easy as possible for the other person to respond well. Bring up things as a friend speaking to a friend, not as a warrior confronting an enemy. As the Bible says, “pleasant words promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:21).

Choose a good time to talk.

Meet privately.

If appropriate, pray together to have a good discussion.

Try one of these ways to start the conversation —

  • Start with a compliment. The apostle Paul frequently used this technique in his letters. For example, although he had many critical things to write to the Corinthians, he began his first letter with compliments and words of encouragement (1 Corinthians 1:1-9).
  • Directly, but gently, introduce the topic. Don’t hint about what is bothering you. Be direct, but friendly. For example, you could say, “I am feeling tense about something and I really want to work it out. Could we talk?”
  • Express your feelings instead of attacking. For example, you could say, “:I felt really hurt when you interrupted me,” instead of, “You are such a jerk.”
  • Admit, “I could be wrong.”
  • Ask if you have caused offense.
  • If you have a bad attitude, confess it and ask for prayer.
  • Confront serious sin more strongly if appropriate. However, even then you often can be more effective if you are gentle.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Related: The power in humility

Step 4: Speak and listen courteously and respectfully

Determine that you, personally, will talk in a loving, godly manner regardless of how the other person talks. The way you talk usually is more important than whether you are right or wrong, whether your spouse listens to you, or whether you get your way. In other words, the process usually is more important than the result.

Speak courteously as a friend, not as an enemy. Demonstrate love, patience, and wisdom, regardless of how your spouse talks. As Paul wrote, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Proverbs 16:24)

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35)

As you read the following guidelines, ask yourself how well you do in each area. Rate yourself from 0 to 10 on each topic.

  • “0” means, “I really need to work on this.”
  • “10” means, “I do very well at this.”

___ Listen intently. Try to see through others’ eyes.

___ Speak courteously. Never use filthy language. (Read James 3:10.)

___ Share feelings and opinions without attacking.

___ Make your point fairly quickly. Avoid long speeches.

___ Seek to minister to the other person.

___ Brainstorm possible resolutions. You may come up with something neither of you thought about.

___ Seek mutual resolutions (“win/win”), not personal victories.

___ Ask, “What would Jesus want me to say?” Or, “How would Jesus want me to talk?”

___ Speak honestly.

___ Realize that people remember things differently.

___ Clarify your message.

___ Stay on the subject at hand. Don’t keep bringing up new topics.

___ Avoid provocative words such as “always” and “never,” “If you loved me,” “Maybe we should get a divorce,” and “You’re just like your father (or mother).”

___ Control your anger.

Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city. (Proverbs 16:32)

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction. (Proverbs 17:19)

It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. (Proverbs 20:3)

___ Confess your sin (anger) and ask the person you are angry with to pray with you about your anger.

___ Call “time-out” if either of you talk in anger. There are three types of time-out. Choose the one that is most appropriate given the situation.

  • Time-out to get away from the conversation until you are ready to talk respectfully
  • Time-out to pray
  • Time-out to analyze what is going on

___ Do not engage in any form of physical violence.

___ Be ready to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”

Related: Talking with Respect and Love

Step 5: End the conversation well

There is no single pattern for how your discussion should conclude. However, the following guidelines will help you end your talks courteously and peacefully.

As you read the following guidelines, ask yourself how well you do in each area. Rate yourself from 0 to 10 on each topic.

  • “0” means, “I really need to work on this.”
  • “10” means, “I do very well at this.”

___ Be gracious. Be willing to agree to disagree.

___ Be prepared to have ongoing talks if necessary.

___ If someone in an authority position makes a final decision, agree to follow it unless it is illegal or violates your conscience.

___ Pray together if the other person is willing.

Next: What does the Bible say about anger?

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About Doug Britton, MFT

Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)

Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.

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