Resolving Conflict

Leadership development books love to tell the story of the employee who makes a very costly mistake. The employee approaches his boss, sure that he’s going to be fired, but is met with something else instead. The boss says, “Why would I fire you? That money we just lost was a costly investment in your career.”

I’ve seen this same concept be true in friendship. Hurt, mistakes or even just miscommunication with a friend usually has me looking for an escape plan. Thoughts run through my head. How can I untangle my life from that person’s? How can we part ways gracefully?

But honestly, just like the boss sees the costly mistake as an investment, in friendship, conflict is an opportunity to deepen the friendship.

Let me stop and note right here that I’m not talking about toxic relationships where there is abuse on either side, but instead in situations where there is hurt that cannot be ignored, but that can be worked through. There may also be times when we need to walk away from a friendship, that is also okay, but I believe that we too often walk away from a hard situation where forgiveness is waiting on the other side of some difficult conversations.

It could be easy for someone to read through my 31 days on friendship and think that all my relationships are perfect. But that’s far from true. I’ve walked through relational conflict with almost all of my closest friends. I’ve got quite a few close friends, so my relational conflict has been abundant. In fact, there was a season that it felt like I wondered if the problem was me. Was I the person who was hard to be friends with? Maybe. Probably.

What I have almost always seen be true is that on the other side of seasons of relational conflict are deepened friendships. Once you’ve walked through something hard with a friend, you have more on the line to continue to invest in.

I’ve picked up a helpful tool in talking through hurt. It’s three easy words. Observation, interpretation, and clarification. I’ve found this model to be especially helpful because it assumes the best about the other person. And in resolving conflict, it’s often fruitful to walk into a conversation with humility; knowing that you could be in the wrong and wanting to fix it.

Here’s how a conversation could work:

First you observe. “Hey Jane, I’ve noticed that you frequently interrupt me when I’m talking.”

Then you interpret. “When you do that, it seems like you don’t value what I have to say.”

You finish by asking for clarification. “Can you speak into that a little bit?”

Obviously this is an overly implied situation. But the language is helpful to guide relational conflict to a resolution.

Conversations about hurt or where miscommunication has occurred are difficult. As our culture gets increasingly afraid of anything that hurts, our friendships will get progressively worse. It is vital that we start to be willing to walk through conflict in a friendship. You may just find that by willing to have difficult conversations, you’re not only resolving conflict, but investing in a friend. Perhaps a strengthened relationship is an bonus outcome.


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