Five Keys to Good Conflict Management

Relational conflict is an inevitable result of family life, including clergy families, but it can have positive effects in our relationships — provided it is managed well. Wise conflict management creates relationship security and promotes a “we’ve got this” attitude, especially when you are deeply committed to one another and continue to experience each other as trustworthy. Conflict management is more than mere “problem solving.” When you manage your conflicts well, each person’s voice and viewpoint is respected, and each one’s opinions are heard. Managing conflict is as much about the process as it is about a final solution. When conflicts are managed well, the agreed upon solutions are more likely to be implemented.

Relationship experts, John and Julie Gottman outline the important ingredients in successful conflict management. Below are five of those ingredients. Thrive in 5 will return to a fuller discussion of each component of successful conflict management in future posts.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves  (Philippians 2:3).

  1. Use a “soft start-up.”Gottman’s research indicates that the way a conflict starts is an indicator of how the conflict will end. Using a harsh and abrasive start-up yields escalated fighting while a softer start-up promotes relationship closeness in the end. Adopting a gentle tone of invitation rather than demand is important for successful conflict management. (Proverbs 15:1, James 1:19)
  2. Make effective repairs during the conflict. A repair is any behavior that affirms the relationship and seeks to keep the discussion (or argument) from spiraling out of control. (Ephesians 4: 25-26)
  3. De-escalate quarrels. Do not let your quarrel get out of control and escalate into a major fight. Engage your own self-control. Take a break when you need to cool down and set a time for resuming your discussion with a cooler head. (Ephesians 4: 27)
  4. Be ready to compromise. You won’t solve every problem during the first discussion, even when you employ these conflict management strategies. So be ready to compromise. (Philippians 2:3-4)
  5. Manage your own emotions. The Gottmans call this “self-soothing.” Your job is to keep your emotions in check so that you can continue to connect with your partner during your conflict discussion. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

To learn more about conflict management, see the following resources: 

  1. For more on a soft-start, see How to Fight Smarter
  2. To learn how to make a “repair attempt,” see Making Repair Attempts in a Relationship
  3. To learn more about compromise: The Art of Compromise
  4. For more on self-soothing check out this YouTube: Stonewalling vs. Self-Soothing

Relational contributor: Dr. Toddy Holeman, chair, Department of Counseling and Pastoral Care at Asbury Theological Seminary 
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle