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Observations about Conflict


1. Conflict is Unavoidable

While the presence of conflict almost always causes us to feel that something’s amiss or broken, in truth conflict is a reality that cannot be avoided. Any time people with differing backgrounds, experiences, and agendas engage a common pursuit, conflict will have many opportunities to rear its awkward, and occasionally ugly, head.

For the leader, this knowledge proves critical. While we don’t look for conflict, treating it as an unexpected guest seldom puts us in a place where we can respond effectively. Instead, when we know that conflict is a normal part of the journey and dealing with it is a key piece of our job description, we can embrace the moments more effectively. Don’t be surprised by conflict but acknowledge its presence as a part of the journey forward, regardless of the destination.

2. Confrontation is Difficult

Anticipating conflict isn’t difficult but dealing with it sure can be. Most people fear conflict because it makes confrontation—the art of resolving conflict—a necessary step. Few of us enjoy confrontation, and frankly, if we do enjoy such moments, our efforts to lead will likely be filled with difficulty.

In the church, confrontation’s difficulty is often magnified. Since people can quickly and easily choose to attend another church, leaders engage moments of necessary confrontation with great trepidation. In fact, this is a key reason why many leaders avoid confrontation altogether, or at least until the level of need becomes unbearable.

But while confrontation isn’t enjoyable, understanding our own emotions as we face such encounters can help us respond more effectively. Typically, our resistance to or avoidance of confrontation is motivated by one of the following:

  • Fear of being disliked
  • Fear of being misunderstood
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of making things worse
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of sharing feelings
  • Lack of confrontation skills

When we understand which of these we might be feeling in a given situation, we can address those emotions and free ourselves from the limitation and reluctance they are creating.


Understanding the “why” of conflict can also help us prepare to deal with it effectively. Now, each situation possesses its own specific details and issues, but on a deeper level, conflict can be motivated by other realities.

Human nature—Have you ever noticed how much easier is it to remember negative moments than those that are more positive? Perhaps due to our sinful nature or our inner longing for a better place and life, most of us hold more tightly to frustrations and insecurities, and allow disappointments to linger in our thoughts far longer than reasons for praise or thanksgiving. Those negative impulses often lead people to darker conclusions or questions of a leader’s motive, even when such thoughts are undeserved.

B. Divisive people—Some people act in ways that seem to prefer conflict over peace. Often their attitude is a reflection of the unhappiness they feel in other areas of their lives.

C. Hurting people—John Maxwell has wisely said, “Hurting people hurt people.” In many situations, a leader may discover conflict situations arising out of the hurt people have experienced in other relationships.

D. Political people—While it may not be a common cause for conflict, some people contribute to conflict in order to see what might result. They find enjoyment in such difficulties, anxiously awaiting the results of the “pot they stir.” Gossiping is a common behavior expressing this attitude. Usually people with this motivation never anticipate being confronted or held accountable for their actions.

E. Poor leadership—For some, their behavior in conflict mirrors the actions of parents or other key leaders in their lives. They have never been shown how to conduct themselves in a healthy way, nor have they been instructed in proper treatment of others.

When realities such as these are present, the effort to resolve conflict is made much more difficult. Frequently, even if the current issue can be solved, these unhealthy conditions keep peace from enduring for long. People who cannot overcome these deeper issues often move from one conflict to the next in rapid succession.

“Managing Conflict” is published by the National Women’s Department at www.women.ag.org. 2020. Permission to reproduce is limited to personal use or within a teaching setting. All other forms of use are prohibited.