Time, Tact, and Tone
I've not always been great with conflict. In fact, I've been pretty sorry at it on more occasions than I care to admit, really. The following is something I’m recently learning in regards to church leadership and relationships. However, I think it is helpful for basic communication at home or in everyday friendships, or work relationships in which conflict arises. If you don’t have conflict in a relationship, then you don’t have a relationship. It’s that simple. Fake smiles and small talk rarely need some sort of mediation.
However, if you’re in a working relationship or around the home with the same people every day, you will face conflict. Nobody sees eye to eye about everything all the time. If you have a conflict with someone you need to say something about it. Burying frustration eventually erupts in very ugly ways. I’ve lost friendships and odds are you have too because someone didn’t bring up an issue that was really eating at them and then finally, they exploded about that issue and many more which resulted in the relationship being burnt to the ground. Scripture teaches to not let the sun go down on your anger (Eph. 4.26). Jesus teaches that if your brother has a problem with you that you need to go and resolve it prior to worshiping God (Matt. 5.24). There are three things that have stood out to me and that we all need to consider when it comes to conflict, resolution, and reconciliation. (I’ve learned these the hard way). So, in an effort to better love, serve, understand, honor, and communicate better with those around me, I’m working on practicing the following.
In a conflict consider your timing, your tact, and your tone.
First consider the timing. What time are you going to discuss your issue? For example, if your boss just walked in the door and he hasn’t even made it to his office yet, and he’s on the phone, that is probably not the time to bring up your issue. It’s not because your issue isn’t important. It is! However, you can honor your boss by considering where he or she may be mentally in that moment. Ask them, “Is this a good time to talk to you about an issue I’m having?” If not, ask when would be good time, or go through their assistant if they have one.
At home, bringing up that issue that you’ve got with your spouse right before you sit down to have dinner with the family probably isn’t the best time either. Maybe after the kids are in bed would be better. Consider the other person. What are they presently going through? When do you think will be a good time to talk about the conflict? By the way, this isn't putting the conflict off, but an intentional step towards a healthy resolution so that the issue isn’t compounded by poor timing.
Second consider your tact. Think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Have a game plan. What do you really want to communicate? Take a moment if you need to and write it down and look over it. I’ve found that taking an extra minute to write my issue down, read it over, and pray about it, has helped me in more ways than I knew possible. I’m able to see things more clearly and sometimes discover that I don’t actually have an issue with someone else! It’s actually my own problem that I created for myself! Some people want a very straight-forward, blunt statement when it comes to conflict. Taking your time to get to the issue is irritating for some. If other people are spoken to forthrightly they will feel bullied or disrespected. So, prior to talking to someone, consider your tact. What will they actually hear? What are they going to feel like on the drive home after your discussion? Are you out to win the argument or do you want to win the person too? (By the way, winning arguments and losing people is not leading nor loving).
Lastly, what is your tone going to be like? You may be angry, frustrated, or disappointed. So consider your body language, voice inflections, and word choice. All of these matter big time if you want to move through the conversation and be reconciled at the end of it. So, it’s not just what you say but how you say it. Is your language a bit hyperbolic that needs to be revamped? Are you being sarcastic? Do you show that you’re serious but gracious? Can you make the issue about the issue without insulting the person? Usually when someone is insulted they either fight back or simply comply so as to speed the meeting up and get out of the conversation. Thus the conflict never really is resolved. Think about your tone.
Why think about all of these things? Because our Apostle Paul tells us to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). To do this, we must hang our hats on Jesus. Consider that he spoke to Nicodemus at night, the Pharisees in the synagogue, preached on the hillside to masses, and had dinner with “sinners.” Look at what he said, how he said it, and to whom he was speaking.