Handling Conflict and Stress

What do you do when you really get angry or upset? Scream, shout, growl, whisper? Do you remain calm or explode? Do you curse or pray? Do you blame yourself or blame others? Do you count to 10 or lay the person out? What do you do when you get mad and want to fight?

One thing is sure: the traditional ways of handling conflict and stress are just not working. Today people need something more than just “count to 10.” They are upset, stressed out, and getting mad. Criminally mad. Shooting is replacing talking. Fighting is replacing forgiveness. Killing is replacing kindness. In too many places the operative approach is to get even by any means available. As a result, we see an increase of conflict, often violent conflict – racially, domestically, maritally, interpersonally, and organizationally.

Conflict Everywhere

Sociologist Harvey Molotch contends that conflict is the central feature of cities. Invariably the question is Who gets what, and how will they get it? People at the top of the power structure set the priorities within which decisions affecting land use, the public budget, education allocations, and urban social life are formulated. Too often the winners are the powerful and moneyed; the losers are the poor and minority groups.

Tension reflected in the political arena is also reflected in domestic and social realms. Conflict is routinely addressed through violent means. The increase in gang fights in our cities illustrates this tension. Gang violence has increased dramatically since the 1960s. Today some gangs openly make use of an arsenal that includes grenades. This practice is now commonplace.

A general lack of willingness or knowledge to work things out is obvious. There is violence between parents and children, relatives, students, neighbors, ethnic groups, employees, and labor unions. Most of the fighting today is the result of people not knowing or not willing to resolve conflict.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that before His second coming the love of many would grow cold. Why? Because iniquity and wickedness would increase. Christ pointed to our day, the period before His return, as a time when people would be less tolerant and more heartless. In other words, conflict resolution would be on the decline. Crime statistics bear out the validity of Christ's prophecy.

Our challenge is to come up with effective ways to express concerns and deal with important differences if we want to get along with each other in a more amiable manner. If we want to be successful in stemming the destructive tide of violence around us, we have to learn how to fight fairly.

Conflict Types

We can start on a very basic level with our own interpersonal conflicts, conflicts that have to do with relationships and people problems. Interpersonal conflict deals with identity, self-image, beliefs, and feelings (how people interact). Generally these conflicts are resolved most effectively by open communications that accept the feelings of the persons involved and leads to better mutual understanding.

There are two other major forms of conflict. One is instrumental conflict, which has to do with objectives, means, procedures, and structures – how things are done. The other is conflicts of interest, which deal with the distribution of scarce resources like money, time, human resources, and space – how they are distributed.

You may know from your own experience that the approaches generally used to deal with conflict (open communication, negotiation, and problem solving) do not necessarily solve them. When people are sufficiently involved and the stake is vitally important to one or both parties, either party may sabotage attempts to find a solution and end up creating more conflict. Ellen White, a health educator and religious writer, has noted that the cause of many conflicts is often pride and selfishness. It is helpful to know that where these factors are operative a person may deliberately and maliciously hold on to a particular point of view even when they know they should change.

Conflict, Be Aware

Conflict will happen. It is a part of life. However, it seldom comes in neat little packages. There are some elusive aspects of conflict that you need to be aware of.

1. Conflicts can be of mixed nature. A conflict about money can, and often will, obscure a deeper level of conflict of interest. A conflict dealing with a promotion dispute can involve subtle forms of discrimination. The participants may be talking about one thing, when the real issue is something altogether different.

2. Conflict is sometimes fought while using disguised content. A conflict between parents may be fought over child discipline, when the real issue has to do with authority (who's in charge in the household). People often have a dual agenda when in conflict.

3. Conflict can, and often is, fought with the wrong strategy. A person can exert too much force at an early stage. It's like killing an ant with the proverbial sledgehammer.

4. Conflict often develops in progressive stages from moderate to more extreme forms. Obviously the conflict is more resolvable when identified at an early stage.

5. It may be difficult to recognize a situation as one of conflict. This is especially true if the parties involved are passively hiding the conflict because of fear, intimidation, or threat of reprisal. In a multicultural context, one culture may not recognize the areas of conflict simmering in another culture. To complicate matters, because of ignorance or lack of sensitivity people of one culture may view their interpretation of reality as reality itself. They are not able or willing to imagine that interpretations can, and often do, differ.

Conflict Helpers

If you are in the midst of a conflict and are in need of help, persons skilled in the following areas might be of assistance to you. If necessary, seek their help.

  • Arbiter – The arbiter analyzes the conflict and tells the parties what she/he sees as the best solution. The arbiter's strength is expertise, formal power legitimized by the involved parties. She/he is good at working with instrumental conflicts.
  • Facilitator – The facilitator provides opportunity for the opponents to come together and discuss, disagree, reflect, and confront in a safe setting. The facilitator's strength is trusting, teaching expertise, counseling skills, and an understanding of problem solving and conflict resolution. She/he is good at working with personal and relational conflicts.
  • Mediator – The mediator will propose procedures for getting information, for decision-making, and will try to reach agreement on the issues and competencies of the parties involved. The mediator's strength is in his/her respect, experience, and knowledge of the issues under discussion. She/he is good at working with conflict of interests.

Fighting Guidelines

The following dos, don'ts, and absolutes are helpful guidelines for resolving interpersonal conflict. However, the principles can be profitably applied to any type of conflict within the home, job, church, or social setting. When you get mad and want to fight, these guidelines can provide guidance after you “count to 10.”


1. Do state your feelings and accept responsibility for them. You have a right to your feelings and views. You have a right to express them in the appropriate setting and in the right manner.

2. Do know what the issues are that you are communicating. Do not babble and speak everything that shows up in your thoughts. Cautiously analyze what you want to fulfill in the encounter and then follow your objectives.


1. Don't wait too long before you share what the problem is. Perhaps we need to consider the story of the genie in the bottle. During his first 1,000 years of incarceration he thinks, Whoever lets me out will get three wishes. During his second 1,000 years of incarceration he thinks, Whoever lets me out I'm gonna kill. Many of us seem to get meaner and more dangerous the longer our grievances are bottled up.

2. Don't fight every issue. Figure out what you are really fighting for and how much it is worth to you. Some issues aren't worth your time or effort. You might ask the question, “Is this the battle I want to fight?”

3. Don't “crazymake.” That means we should stick to the point and not bring up everything that she/he has done wrong in the past. It will not advance your argument if, when you are telling your son that he needs to improve his grades, you bring out that his room is never clean, he talks with food in his mouth, and he always leaves the gas tank empty after using the car.


1. Listening is as important as talking, sometimes more so.

2. Two winners are better than one. Instead of trying to be the sole winner in the argument, why not work to let all parties come out as winners. If you can't solve the problem among those involved in the problem, by all means, seek assistance from someone who can facilitate the resolution of the conflict. Don't be too proud to ask for help. 3. A soft answer still turneth away wrath. Equally true is the remainder of the text, which says: “Grievous words stir up anger”. Avoid conflicts if you can do so without damaging yourself or your relationships.

Take an introspective look inside to see if the obstacles of pride and selfishness are blocking the path to resolution.

4. To end a fight means to stop the fight. Forgive the offender and put the offense behind you. Don't keep bringing up ole fight issues after they have beer resolved. Stale fights stink. Few things are more disarming and refreshing that a gracious end to bitter conflict.

The Conflict Key

Techniques and knowledge on resolving disputes are good. But something greater is required to resolve the squabbles that emerge in our relationships! e require an viewpoint that is ready to admit that we are wrong, that really wants to solve conflicts, that wants to exercise the gift of forgiving love. But we can't do it on our own. We need help. Where is help available? Through Christ. He has the ultimate ability to solve conflict. But we must sincerely ask Him for help. If we give Him permission, He will help us to work through the thorny problems in our relationships with others. He will then give us new motivation to put into practice the conflict resolution principles we've discussed. If we ask Him, He will help us.

Everything is possible with God! Nothing is so intertwined that it cannot be resolved. No human relationship is too difficult for God to produce human understanding and reconciliation. No habit is so profound that it cannot be conquered. No person is so fragile that he can’t be made powerful.

Society | Self-Help

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