Healthy Leaders


12 Questions to Ask Ourselves in Conflict

Mark AltroggeMark Altrogge

In this fallen world, it seems like conflict is everywhere.

Turn on the news. Seems like the first story is always about political conflict. I never hear a politician say, “Can we work together on this?” Or, “You know, my opponent makes some really good points.” And you will never hear, “You know, my opponent is right.”

Conflict is everywhere: Husbands and wives, parents and children/teens/adult kids, roommates, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ, believers and non-believers – we all sin against each other at times – sometimes intentionally but many times unintentionally. We have misunderstandings, we fail to keep promises, we do things that annoy or hurt others.

Usually, our first impulse in conflict is to look at all the ways the other person is wrong.

All the ways they hurt us or messed up or all the ways they are thinking incorrectly about an issue. But over the years I have found it helpful to examine myself before focusing on the other person.

Here are 12 questions I have found helpful to ask myself when I find myself in conflict:

#1. Am I trying to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. . . (James 1:19)

Am I really trying to hear what the other person has to say? Really trying to see their viewpoint? Or am I defending myself or thinking of my next answer before they are finished speaking? Am I feeling angry? Is there anything that I really need to see here, even if we are talking about something the other person did? Am I appropriately humbling myself in this situation?

#2. Am I thinking my anger will produce a righteous reaction in the other person?

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1.19-20)

Sometimes we think our anger will intimidate the other person into seeing our side or backing off. And it might. We may get someone to do something out of fear of man, but our anger will not “produce the righteousness of God.” Someone may quit sinning against us because they fear our angry response, but their motive won’t be to please God.

Anger does nothing to solve conflicts. We may say, “But I have a right to be angry after what she did to me.” Well, God certainly could exercise His righteous anger toward us and we would deserve it, but He has been infinitely merciful to us and rather than giving us what we deserved He poured out His wrath on Jesus so we could know His mercy.

Remember, anger will not produce anything good.

#3. Have I considered that I may have a log in my eye?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

We all have blind spots – things about ourselves we can’t see. Jesus says that before we judge others – before we condemn others for their sins – we need to look at ourselves. And it is interesting that Jesus says that what we see in another’s eye is but a “speck” compared to the “log” in our eye. We tend to think of ourselves as far more righteous than the person we are angry at. But we need to ask ourselves, “Could I have a log in my eye?” Could I be perceiving things wrongly?

When I am offended at someone, it helps me to consider that I may have a log in my eye somewhere that I’m not aware of. It helps me to remember that no one, especially me, has God’s perfect wisdom and insight into every situation. I’m only a weak, earthen vessel, and I’m prone to not seeing things correctly.

#4. Am I being quarrelsome?

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Am I being kind to everyone? Am I patiently enduring evil, or am I reacting quickly? Am I correcting my opponent with gentleness? Although the “opponents” Paul is referring to are probably believers, this certainly applies to unbelievers as well.

#5. Am I trying to see the other person’s side?

There are almost always two sides to every conflict. I need to do my best to understand this person and why he did this to me. Maybe he misunderstood me. Maybe I could have done something better. Maybe he was having a bad day or was under a lot of pressure. I don’t want to assume that I am completely right. Am I treating him the way I would want him to treat me?

#6. Am I doing this for the glory of God?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Do I want this person to change because I am angry, or to prove I am right, or merely to get my way? Or do I want this person to change so they will bring God glory? When we keep God’s glory at the forefront of our thinking, it will change how we approach others. Here’s a great way to determine the answer to this question: are you praying for the person or just wanting to be right?

#7. Am I doing this in love?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

Do I genuinely love this person and care about their well-being? Do I want the best for them? Do I hope God blesses them? If I am confronting them because I’m angry I am not doing this out of love. If someone has hurt us it’s hard to love them. But we must pray and ask Jesus to help us love them. If our motive is to put them down, or show them we’re right, we aren’t doing it out of love.

#8. Am I doing everything I can to be reconciled to this person?

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

Am I seeking restoration or am I just trying to convince this person I am right? Am I only trying to win an argument, or is my goal reconciliation? Am I seeking to restore our relationship? Or do I just want her to admit she is wrong?

#9. If the other person pointed out something I did wrong, am I more focused on how they brought their concern to me or what I did?

This is so easy to do. Maybe they weren’t as gentle as they could have been. Maybe their timing wasn’t perfect. Maybe they brought something to us in anger. It is so easy for us to not look at what the other person wanted to say to us but on how they said it. How they did it. That way we have an excuse for not examining ourselves.

#10. Am I considering that my heart could deceive me?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Before Jesus saves us, our hearts are deceitful – completely deceitful. They tell us we are right; it’s okay to sin; what matters most is pleasing ourselves, etc. But when Jesus saves us, He gives us new hearts. He gives us His Spirit to guide us, convict us, and lead us into truth. Yet we still must battle temptations from our “flesh,” our old nature, which though it is no longer our dominant nature, can still tempt and influence us.

So in conflict, we must be on our guard against temptation. In conflict, we’re tempted to give in to anger and pride and self-righteousness. We must keep praying that the Lord will lead and guide us.

#11. Am I trusting God to convince this person?

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

Did you catch that? God may perhaps grant them repentance,” or a change of mind. Only God can change someone’s heart. And though this Scripture is referring to a change of mind leading to salvation it applies to every situation where we are trying to make someone see our side.

We can’t change another person’s heart, no matter how convincing or forceful we try to be. So in conflict, I try to ask myself, have I asked God to help them see what He would have them see?

#12. Is there any middle ground or alternative solution we haven’t considered?

We can get locked into thinking that our way is the only way. In the heat of conflict, it’s hard to consider other possible options. Sometimes if we take a step back or give it a little time God can show us a solution we haven’t yet considered.

Remember, it’s not about winning or being right; it’s about God’s glory and building others. 

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