Conflict is everywhere, and it’s unavoidable. At work, tensions rise because of misunderstandings, ineffective communication, tight timelines, failed projects, and hurt feelings.
Conflict can lead to low productivity, high employee turnover, burnout, low net promoter scores, and a lack of connection and engagement in our work. Therefore, how we address and resolve conflict is extremely important.
I began thinking about the real-world business implications and looked to CPP Inc., the publishers of the Myers-Briggs Assessment, for help. They commissioned a study on workplace confrontation, which opens with the following:
“First and foremost, workers at all levels must learn to accept conflict as an inevitable part of their work environment – the study found that an overwhelming majority (85%) of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree. Furthermore, we found that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in 2008.”
The study states that 89% of employees let their conflicts with coworkers escalate, while 12% quit their job, another 10% of workers avoid going to meetings, and 9% don’t come to work for multiple days.
Another study by Randstad USA found that 38% percent of workers want to leave their jobs due to a toxic work culture or one where they don’t feel they fit in. An even larger group (58%) have left jobs or are considering leaving because of negative office politics. I could go on all day with the statistics.
The numbers surprised me but only affirmed the importance of addressing conflict and finding resolution at work. And although Scripture doesn’t provide a checklist of self-help steps for dealing with workplace conflict, there are clear principles in the Bible that can help.
Go Toward Conflict, Not Away
If you have something against someone, or they have something against you, Jesus tells you to go to them. Whatever the conflict or root of the conflict, do not hide, isolate, withdraw, or assume you’ll “get over it,” etc.
Jesus commands us so in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
Be intentional, and don’t make up excuses for why you are the exception to Jesus’ command.
Be Quick to Listen
In the book of James, we read, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” (1:19). Next time a conflict arises at work, try to drive yourself into a listening mindset by leading with a question, rather than sharing everything on your mind.
In every conflict, there are usually elements of truth on both sides, so listen with the intent to identify the true statements rather than just listening with your mind focused on rejecting the false information.
I’ll be transparent in admitting that if I don’t intentionally listen, I can slip into a defensive mindset. In her book Atlas of the Heart, author and researcher Brené Brown says:
“To limit our exposure to information that differs from how we think of ourselves, we get defensive and over-justify, make excuses, minimize, blame, discredit, discount, refute, and reinterpret. Defensiveness blocks us from hearing feedback and evaluating if we want to make meaningful changes in our thinking or behavior based on input from others.”
After giving the other person a space to vulnerably share, thank them for sharing openly and speaking with a humble heart.
Forgive or Make Restitution
Seeking forgiveness or offering restitution during conflict is discussed repeatedly in the Bible. Ensuring that we are the light of our workplaces is crucial; as Christian leaders, we are called to bring renewal to situations or relationships amid brokenness.
We are called in Ephesians 4:31-32, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
As for offering restitution, Exodus 22:3 says you must make right whatever you have wronged. Ask your coworker, “What can I do to make it right?” Then as a leader of integrity, make sure to follow through on your promises.
As we move into a new month, make it a point to prayerfully reflect on any conflicts in your office or department. How can you bring resolution to those places of tension? How might your work look if Jesus were the boss? Indeed, there’d be better listening, more accountability, earnest apologies, and genuine forgiveness – so let’s start there.
Take advantage of a chance to reflect deeper and connect with other Christians in the workplace about what it means to bring light to areas of darkness just like this. Join us this fall for our 2023 Workmatters Institute classes; you can find more information here.