Fight Night – The Biblical Art of Confrontation & Conflict
Conflict happens to everyone; but, some people are better at managing it and resolving it!
Unfortunately, a lot of people end up burning through relationships unnecessarily because they lack “fighting skills.” But thankfully, the Bible gives us lot of advice on how to confront and deal with conflict! And so below you’ll find dozens of messages and blogs filled with life-hacks that will help you avoid unnecessary conflict – as well as navigating necessary conflict!
In WEEK ONE: the Five Hallmarks of Biblical Confrontation. The bible is very clear about How and When to confront in a life-giving way. Unfortunately, many of us blow up relationships because we fail to apply these basic principles. Here are the NOTES Basic Confrontation Skills2023 that accompany the message!
In WEEK TWO: We talked about Advanced Tips on Confrontation – like, what are a few tips on how to make sure a tough conversation goes well? If the goal is to “win someone over” to a better way of living, it requires a different strategy than simply burning a relationship. the Bible teaches that there are different confrontation tactics for different types of conflict. And there are certain people you should NEVER confront. Do you know who they are? The answer could save your family!
In WEEK THREE: We talked about why it’s so hard to negotiate a “Win-Win” with certain people? As discussed in week 2, some people are incapable of negotiating win-wins due to their unhealth (& thus, should be avoided!) But, more often than not, the reason we fail to experience a win-win is due to “bad fighting habits.” We ALL have a few! But which of these habits tend to sabotage your relationships most?
In WEEK FOUR: We talked about Forgiveness as a Weapon. If we knew what forgiveness actually did in the spiritual realm, we would be quick to do it every time someone hurts us. Indeed, it’s impossible to experience God’s justice and restitution when we play the victim through unforgiveness. But, do you believe some of these myths of forgiveness?
In WEEK FIVE: Did you know your ability to experience happiness and promotion in scripture is closely tied to our ability to forgive people? Here are two more behaviors that will fast-forward justice and restitution in your life. Our betrayals do not need to become breakdowns.
Beyond these videos, here are a few tips about what to do before, during, and after a confrontation.
BEFORE THE FIGHT / CONFRONTATION:
- PRAY FIRST: This is rather basic; yet, it surprises me how many people walk into tough conversations without truly listening to God! What if your circumstance could be entirely resolved by the Spirit of God? (Mark 9:29; Eph.6:12). In fact, if you check out The Traffic Light of Influence page, I listed over a half dozen ways to influence a difficult person like this before turning to confrontation.
- TALK OUT YOUR FEELINGS; DON’T ACT THEM OUT: Instead of being assertive, a lot of people “stuff their frustrations” until they burst. On the opposite extreme, many people shout out their feelings before they’ve thought out their feelings – saying all sorts of offensive and thoughtless things that they don’t even fully believe. But whichever extreme you identify with more, one truth is for sure: the little tensions demand attention. If you can find a disarming way to talk often, the little issues never become big in the first place!
- APPLY THE EMOTIONAL BANK ACCOUNT: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” People are like bank accounts. The more you make deposits of love (time, listening, generosity, servanthood, etc), the more you can make withdrawals (confrontations, requests, and tough questions). Keep in mind, you need to show them love in a way that they can understand. Servanthood often goes a long way. As the old saying goes: “No husband was ever shot while doing the dishes.“
- AVOID WRITING YOUR CONFRONTATIONS: If you love people, you will attempt to meet face-to-face; (or at the very least, call them). It’s ok to write out your feelings –if you’re needing clarity. But 99% of all written confrontations come off more intense than they should for several reasons: (1). When you’re looking people in the eyes, most people tend to dial back the sarcasm and edginess; (2). Most people are terrible writers. I’m a best-selling author, and my writing skills have consistently fallen short. And sometimes, even writing out your feelings can get dysfunctional because, it often causes a person to stew and brood over their grudges and bad assumptions. Thus, I would unnecessarily whip myself into a frenzy, when the misunderstanding could’ve been quickly and easily resolved. “But didn’t the Apostle Paul write his confrontations?” Uhm…Yeah. But you ain’t the Apostle Paul! He lived before cell phones and video chat. And he was often in prison. You do not have the same excuses!
- SEEK TO UNDERSTAND FIRST, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD. I know of dozens of circumstances where, the confronter had their information wrong (or, at the very least, had bad assumptions about the situation). Thus, it’s always smart to lead with listening, not speaking. But this is also critical if the conversation becomes heated. A person who feels understood rarely feels the need to yell or stay upset. (And by the way, it’s really hard to yell at a person who whispers back and continues to ask questions). Truly great leaders can usually handle overlooking a few offenses and accusations while they disarm the bomb inside of people. If you can learn this skill, you will have a long-list of long-time friends.
- DON’T CONFRONT FOOLISH OR WICKED PEOPLE AS THOUGH THEY ARE WISE: The book of Proverbs is always talking about the differences between “wise, foolish and wicked people.” And the reason it’s important to discern between these categories is because, the Bible requires a different strategy for each – especially as it pertains to confrontation. For example, 9:7-9 says “Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.” It’s easy to project maturity upon people who don’t have it. Yet a lot of people simply can’t handle a rebuke. But the greater point is this: With a wise person, “tension simply demands attention.” But with a wicked person, we don’t confront them at all! Rather, we avoid them all together! Indeed, a narcissistic or pathological personality needs engagement in order to continue manipulating. With a foolish person, they need boundaries, demotion and /or distance with benchmarks (not higher access!). But if we fail to identify these categories and change your strategy of dealing with each, you will have a greater level of frustration.
DURING THE FIGHT: WHAT are BAD FIGHTING HABITS?
All close relationships will experience conflict. It’s inevitable. But some people are way better at handling conflict than others. Or to put it another way, they understand the art of “productive fighting.” Fighting can actually be a powerful path towards intimacy, unity and peace, if it’s done well. As you read the list below, see if you’ve acquired any of these short-circuits towards healthy fighting:
- Unnecessary Escalation: Yelling / Cussing / Intimidation / mellow drama: Some people feel like drama is how you “get heard.” Unfortunately, the opposite is often true. Studies show that escalation tends to increase “fight or flight” in our opponent. And when this hormonal shift happens, people are less likely to listen and learn.
- Unnecessary Shutting Down – eg., Becoming unresponsive; storming out; killing communication: When conversations become emotional, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Thus, it’s sometimes important to have brief “cool-off” moments or time to gather our thoughts. Yet, running from tension and communication usually only makes things worse.
- Making Hurtful Generalizations (You Always/Never) – Avoid making exaggerated claims that are insulting to your opponent.
- Sharing Accusations/blame instead of Feelings: Learn to rephrase grievances like: “When you do this, I feel.”
- Avoiding Mirroring their Behavior: When someone treats us poorly, it’s easy to sink to their level and behave the same as them. As a result, we elongate a fight by piling on “reactionary sins” – transmitting pain rather than transforming it. Remember, Proverbs 26:4 says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” Instead, God calls us to respond in the opposite spirit (see Mt. 5:39). Indeed, “it is to a person’s glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). God will literally add blessings to us when we upgrade the spirit of a conversation. Once again, it’s hard to continue yelling at a person who is calmly whispering back.
- Fighting at Bad Times “Don’t fight about dishes while the sink is full.” (Eg. Avoid confrontations when hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT). Avoid confrontations during deadlines / or when in front of large groups!
- Fighting through Writing (snarky texts, emails etc) rather than face to face or voice to voice. People tend to speak less harshly when they’re face to face. Written words are easily misinterpreted. And they are usually interpreted in the most intense way possible. Thus, if the goal is to reconcile, avoid these inferior forms of communication.
- Brooding Before a Fight: Many fights are based on bad assumptions and/or incorrect information. Sometimes, when people write out their thoughts – (i.e, they take too much time before communicating), such a person can become “drunk on their own assumptions and grievances” which adds an unnecessary toxicity to the relationship. I’ve learned that fights are a lot like cold swimming pools: The quicker you jump in, the quicker everything becomes fun.
- Trying to Fight about multiple grievances: in a fight, it’s common for side topics or old grievances to surface. But nobody wants a person to unload a dozen grievances all at once. Sometimes, it helps to have a professional therapist to referee these types of fights. Also avoid “fighting about fighting:” Words can get messy during a fight. It’s easy for people to get sidetracked – hanging on every imperfect word that flows out of their opponent. Thus, instead of talking about the original offense, the conversation devolves into a mud-slinging contest about the fight itself. Thus, simplify the conversation.
- Another mistake is Trying to change them to think like you: Ultimately, you can only change yourself; thus, attempting to “change people” is an exercise in frustration. Instead, remind yourself: the goal is not to think alike but to think together. You don’t need to see eye to eye in order to walk hand in hand. When you validate and/or accept a person’s differences, the conversation can suddenly take on a productive goal. Start by looking for common goals and interests and expand on them.
- Making assumptions about your opponent’s intent: A lot of times, your opponent will quickly realize they were wrong yet will keep fighting in order to defend their good intensions. I.e., “I didn’t purposefully mean to insult you.” Thus, a lot of fights last longer than they should because a person is seeking validation for their good intensions. Thus, if you want to shorten the length of a fight, take a moment and validate your opponent’s “heart” whenever you can. It disarms their pride and feelings of guilt – enabling the conversation to focus on more productive matters.
- Wanting to be understood first: the Bible teaches us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19); yet, when we feel misunderstood, it feels awful – which causes us to shout louder. But if you really want to “win a fight” then here’s the secret: Be the first to listen and understand your opponent. In fact, if you’re able to state their argument better than they can, they usually get quiet very quickly. And something magical happens, they finally start listening to YOU. Ironically, the fastest way to be “understood” is to “seek first to understand” your opponent.
AFTER THE FIGHT / CONFRONTATION:
- CONFRONTATIONS SHOULD HAPPEN IN THREES: (Try to do at least 2 follow up meetings after a confrontation). Whenever I have an awkward conversation, I always follow up within a day or two to help the relationship normalize. It’s a fact that introverted personalities or people with ADHD tend to internalize criticism more than extroverts or neuro-typical people. Thus, some people overthink or overreact to a verbal confrontation. Thus, it’s critical to simply follow-up: “Are we good?” (I.e., Give people a chance to feedback). All intense convo’s should happen in threes – assuming the person is healthy. Obviously, if a person is wicked or narcissistic, more conversations will only hurt the healthy person. But, if a person is capable of humility and growth, put in the effort! And if this sounds like a lot of work, trust me: It’s way easier to simply “do it right” (in threes), than trying to patch up a severely burned bridge or starting over with a new person. A reconciled friendship is almost always stronger than a new acquaintance.
- BE MINDFUL of SPOUSES & FRIENDS: It’s natural to feel tired after a fight. And the last thing you want to do is loop-in your spouse on how everything got resolved. As a result, a lot of spouses end up hearing the tensions without the resolutions. They hear the “pre-fight assumptions” without a whole lot of “post-fight conclusions.” Thus, it’s common for spouses and friends to continue carrying offenses even after the matter is resolved. So, be wise about who you include before a tough convo. If an issue is large enough, it sometimes helps to simply include key-stakeholders in the conversation (eg., friends, spouses, room-mates).
- CREATE A WEEKLY ATMOSPHERE OF CARE AND CANDOR in your Family or Organization: Like the emotional bank account, when care is high, candor (honesty) can also be high. And if an atmosphere has a high amount of both, a lot of times, it prevents small issues from becoming big issues. For example, at Substance, we don’t do “annual reviews” because we do “immediate reviews.” I teach all of our staff that tension demands attention. The moment you feel something is off in a relationship, go process it quickly. Waiting 6 months to give feedback is like waiting six months to remove fast-spreading cancer. The sad result is often an “autopsy instead of a check-up!” So, the more a marriage, family, or team can normalize healthy feedback (and affirmations), the easier it becomes for everyone to stay healthy.
- STUDY ENNEAGRAM and MYERS-BRIGGS: Some people have an aversion to these personality tests because unstable people have used them as excuses or boxes to pigeon-hole other people. Yet, when used correctly, they can become a powerful tool for avoiding offenses. Believe it or not, if I have an accurate MBTI / Enneagram score, I can actually predict what kinds of misunderstandings they will tend to have with other people. And if you’re curious, I have an entire post on it here. Three of the 9 Enneagram types meet their needs by being assertive (aggressive) whereas another 3 of the 9 types meet their needs through withdrawing (making their needs smaller). All of these types have advantages and disadvantages. But do you know your tendencies? When an entire team is well-versed in these personality tools, it naturally becomes better at communication and motivation. Instead of forcing everyone to think-alike (which will never happen), the energy of a team can instead be focused on “thinking together.” Check out books like Type Talk, or Just Your Type (which predicts 64 complex combinations of personality conflicts – and how to avoid them). Or, my favorite Enneagram book is Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery: by Don Richard Riso with Russ Hudson. And if you want resources and free tests: see my post here!
- BECOME GOOD AT MODELING HUMILITY AND APOLOGIZING FOR WHAT YOU CAN: Two phrases that everyone needs to learn and own: “You could be right.” And “I’m truly sorry for making you feel like that.”
- CONSIDER A PROFESSIONAL NEUTRAL PARTY WHO CAN HELP: Don’t be afraid to try out multiple therapists /mediators. Find one who both of you feel comfortable with. Don’t worry about the money. Because here’s the truth: if a disagreement is deep enough, it’s going to cost you either way! And chances are, one of you are going to drag third parties into your grievance either way. Thus, you might as well choose a healthy and objective third party. Don’t go to them with the hopes they will finally ascribe blame – as if they’re a judge who must declare: “You are right and you are wrong.” (Indeed, this type of thinking is usually the problem in the first place). Rather, their job is to reset the relationship or reframe the discussion so that you can achieve a win/win. And even if your partner/opponent won’t go, you go either way. “There is wisdom in many counsellors” (Prov. 15:22).
- SET YOUR SOUL FREE THROUGH FORGIVENESS: Not every confrontation is going to go the way you want. But it’s critical to understand that no human being can stand in the way of God promoting you (see Heb. 13:6). God will always settle the score. Thus, forgiveness isn’t “letting people off the hook.” Rather, it’s “letting them off of yourhook and putting them on God’s hook.” Ultimately, it’s removing yourself as the conduit of justice. Indeed, it actually activates God’s justice. And there are three reasons for this: (1). God is a smarter agent of justice who’s better at avoiding collateral damage than you. (2). He has greater exploits for you to accomplish. And (3). Forgiveness is what frees us up for God’s greater exploits. Without forgiveness, you’re like a person trying to run with your shoelaces tied together. Life will always feel difficult. And if any of these thoughts are a struggle for you, be sure to read chapters five & six of my book “Broken Escalators.” You are guaranteed to experience more joy and peace!
5 HALLMARKS OF BIBLICAL CONFRONTATION:
If you’re a follower of Jesus and you need to confront someone, the Bible gives 5 Guiding principles:
(1). Confrontations must be done “gently” and with humility (Gal.6:1-5). Submissive & full of mercy (James 3:17)
WHY? “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Prov. 15:1
“Healthy communicators prefer face to face as its almost always gentler than written confrontations.”
(2). Run to tension quickly (Mt 5:23-24; Eph 4:26) – Tension demands attention; Don’t fester or allow weeks to go by. WHY? Often, our info or assumptions were wrong; thus, we waste energy on unnecessary tension.
“Healthy people are quick to give attention to tension.”
(3). Confrontations must be done privately – going to the true source of the problem first before you involve others (Mt. 18:15) – while assuming the best (1 Cor. 13:7). WHY? Because talking about people rather than topeople (a.k.a. Triangulating) is a form of gossip and politicking that God detests (Prov.6:19). And, none of us like people talking behind our backs in unflattering or untrue ways. The only exceptions are when: (A). The person has a pattern of abuse – in which case, you want to avoid them. Or, (B). You are a minor (under 18) — in which case, it’s smart to include a safe and responsible adult.
“Healthy people never start a confrontation in a public forum – like social media”
(4). Only after confrontations fail do we talk to or involve a righteous third party (1 Cor 6:1-7; Mt. 18:16) WHY? Because when we unnecessarily drag people into our drama, we create “bitter roots” & defilement (Heb.12:15) (Again, the exceptions are when the person is abusive; or, you are a minor).
“Healthy people avoid triangulation even when it feels scary.”
(5). If all else fails, separate yourselves from them (1 Cor 5:11); And if their unrepented sin is “predatory” (which means, it will harm others), then “Go public” with the grievance (Mt. 18:17).
“Healthy people create boundaries and benchmarks after mediation has failed.”
WHEN TO CONFRONT: The Three “CP’s”
- Is this a Critical Path: a belief or behavior that could cause major fall-out like a bad marital decision or theological decision.
- Chronic Problems: You’ve seen a problem over & over with no change: (For Eg. Contentment issues; problems with authority; etc.) “It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine” Song of Sol.2:15
- Close Proximity: “There are some problems you can live with, when it’s your neighbors and friends, that are un-livable with your wife and kids.” (For eg., if your spouse does something illegal that could affect you in a major way.)
When someone else’s sin increasingly jeopardizes you it is increasingly righteous to address it!
BUT WHAT ABOUT SUPER COMPLICATED CIRCUMSTANCES?
Many years ago, I found myself in an impossible leadership situation. Almost all of my problems came down to one insecure leader. And I felt like my only solution was to quit. I mean, I felt like I had tried everything, and yet, nothing was working.
So, one day, I was whining to God about this person, and I felt like God told me: “Peter, I want you to brainstorm a list of creative ways you could influence this situation. If you think you’ve tried EVERYTHING, then, write them out.”
Of course, by the time I came to the end of my list, I realized, there were A LOT of things I hadn’t tried. Indeed, I had only tried about four things (which I kept doing over and over again). But as I listened to the Holy Spirit, I came up with 17 different ways I could influence this situation. And after applying a few of them, the Lord completely transformed that stressful relationship into something amazing.
So, ever since that time, I began giving this list out to other people who felt stuck in a similar hopeless situation. I started calling it The Traffic Light of Influence.
HOW THE “TRAFFIC LIGHT OF INFLUENCE” WORKS
Think of someone difficult in your life (who you’d like to confront). Then, imagine you had 17 different choices, organized into three categories: red, yellow, and green- just like a stoplight.
The Green Category is filled with inspirational ways to influence this circumstance. (Things like prayer, servanthood, and authenticity).
The Yellow category is what I call crisis modes of influence that you should only use after exhausting the green options (Things like mediators or counsellors). And finally,
The Red Modes are what we call collateral modes of influence. (Things like blogs, boycotts, or legal maneuvers). I.e., They may change things; yet, they often create collateral damage.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that automatically tends to turn to dangerous “red light” forms of influence by default. Rather than being a last resort, it is the starting point for many people. And inevitably, we end up transmitting pain rather than transforming it, and antagonizing rather than influencing!
So, think about a stressful relationship in your life and then listen to God speak as you read through the Green Light forms of influence.
But the main lesson is this: If we truly love people and want to influence them, we can’t merely “speak truth” at people. Most people tend to limit themselves to one or two “modes of influence” to the exclusion of the others. And when these limited approaches fail to achieve the results we want, the devil uses these failures to make us feel hopeless. However, by prayerfully considering other ways of approaching things, God can show us solutions that we might not have seen before.
So, Heavenly Father, as we learn the art of courageous conversations, help us become creative. We want to model you in every way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Peter Haas – Lead Pastor of Substance Church – an international multisite church based in Minneapolis. Peter writes comedy books on spirituality: “Pharisectomy: How to Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases”(2012) and Broken Escalators (2015). See www.SubstanceChurch.com – @peterhaas1 (twitter & instagram). He is also a dj-turntablist who produces & tours with Substance Variant. Click to visit one of Substance’s Church live services, or see our documentary film-style services on Youtube. To watch our worship videos, see Substance Input Output.