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I hate conflict. Perhaps hate seems a bit strong, but I'm certainly uncomfortable with it. Unfortunately, conflict occurs in the course of everyday relationships-at home, at church, and at work. In this issue of JCN, Betty Kupperschmidt offers a method of communication for responding to work conflicts known as carefronting and explains key principles underlying carefronting (pp. 10-17). She reminds us that as professional nurses and as Christians, we have an ethical mandate to deal with conflict. So my first big hurdle to overcoming conflict is realizing I can't just ignore it.

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My next struggle is knowing what I should do when conflict arises. If I can't ignore it, what actions should I take? Ken Sande (2004), president of Peacemaker Ministries (, suggests we can use escape (denial, avoidance, flight), conciliation (overlook, discuss, negotiate), or attack (litigation, assault, fight) to respond to conflict. Many of us in nursing tend toward the escape responses, which are of course, trying to ignore conflict. When we can't stand it anymore, we tend to jump into attack responses and become passive-aggressive or openly hostile.


Sande points out that as Christians, our very first response to conflict should be to ask, "How can I please and honor God in this situation?" (p. 17). This means that rather than focusing on me, my hurt feelings, my rights, my etc., I should focus on God. Ouch!! That's not what I naturally do. Furthermore, Sande says we should see conflict as an opportunity. I usually think of conflict as something bad. But what if conflict, like pain, drives us to analyze situations, discover problems, and come up with solutions? Pain forces us to stop and figure out why it is there, requiring us to do something about the underlying problem. What if we used conflict in the same fashion, to discover what's wrong and figure out how to fix it? Sande explains that conflict generally involves issues of personal relationships between people and material concerns such as money or property. In nursing, a material concern could be patient care. What if we saw conflicts at work as a way to help us improve our relationships and patient care? With this understanding, conflict wouldn't be so scary anymore and might even be something to be on the look out for, sort of like keeping watch for safety violations or using infection precautions.


Of course, the best responses to conflict are conciliatory. Why? Because these are the responses that make for peace (Romans 12:17-21). What are conciliatory responses to conflict? According to Sande, some conflicts can and should be overlooked (i.e., quietly forgiven, not thought about, not talked about) (Proverbs 19:11). Such conflicts typically arise from misunderstanding or ignorance. They remind me of Jesus' words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:24). If such conflicts need to be addressed, we need only to say, "You may not be aware of this, but[horizontal ellipsis]," and that takes care of it. Bigger or ongoing conflicts must be addressed as they interfere with relationships (Matthew 5:23-24) and can impact patient care. These typically entail wrong actions or attitudes (i.e., sin) and require confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation (making things right). When two parties can't come to a voluntary resolution of a conflict, they may need outside help ranging from advice (not gossip but wise counsel), mediation, or even arbitration (Sande, 2004).


I'm reminded yet again that God offers me what I need to deal with conflict. Everything I need for life and godliness is found in Christ and in his Word (2 Peter 1:3). I realize I have some choices to make, like choosing to think about me or keeping a clear focus on Jesus and asking, "What would glorify God? What does he want me to do?" When conflicts occur I can choose working toward forgiveness or remaining angry and aloof (Colossians 3:13). And when I don't know what to do, I can ask God for wisdom (James 1:5).




Sande. K. (2004). The Peacemaker: A biblical guide to resolving conflict, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. [Context Link]