Handling Conflict With Difficult People

Handling conflict is never easy. Handling conflict with difficult people is nearly impossible, especially with the intelligent, articulate ones who can seem normal one moment and completely out of their minds on another. How does one keep their sanity, individuality and thought processes coherent when the one you are interacting with is normally logical and clear thinking, and then in an instant switches to a completely emoting state, with no logic attached to it? A complicating factor is when that person is in a position of authority with the power to make life decisions for others. This person then becomes the bully or the blamer I mentioned in one of my previous blogs. The confusing part is that they aren’t always the bully or the blamer. That would actually be easier to handle, as it would be more predictable.

The only way I have figured out how to handle this type of conflict is to be very clear about what I want. In this manner, I can determine the course of action over those areas I have control. Otherwise, I feel helpless and at the mercy of someone else who is not predictable in his or her actions or mannerisms.  In the past, this has led me to feel depressed and trapped.

As an example of dealing with conflict on the mission field, my parents experienced severe conflict while trying to deal with a very difficult, unpredictable co-worker. In an honest gesture of reaching out and being biblical, dad would be the first one to go the other when there was conflict, was kind when the other was mean, and did not react harshly. All were futile attempts, resulting in dad eventually leaving the mission field after eight years there. Prior to this, on another mission field, he had been loved and successful. In hindsight and with the tools I am addressing here, there were some things he might have done. Granted, the outcome might have been the same, but my guess is that he would have left feeling more empowered rather than defeated.

One of the things he might have done after he determined what he wanted to accomplish was to form a plan of action that put himself in more control. From this point on in the discussion, it is only my speculation as to what would have been effective, but the following are some general ideas:

Writing letters to the appropriate mission authorities. In other words, making more “noise”.

Setting firm boundaries without over spiritualizing as to whether or not it was being nice. To those who are sensitive to being godly, sometimes they fail to see that being too nice is actually enabling the other to remain in sin.

If there were others who shared similar goals, finding support through them and together making a plan of action.

Supposing that none of the above would work or were viable options, making an exit plan with as much detailed information and knowledge as to next steps would be very helpful and empowering.

Naturally, implementing some of the above ideas has the high probability of creating chaos, and many don’t want to or have the energy to engage at that level. On the other hand, because so many did not know what to do with that co-worker, last I heard, though he is in his 90’s, he still inappropriately meddles into the affairs on that mission field.

A caveat on the above considerations: some really smart bullies might take the information and feel empowered to continue in their agenda of destruction. The difference is that it is usually through control, fear and domination or intimidation that they are able to accomplish their objective. Those who are genuinely godly will be cooperative, considerate listeners, bringing peace and healing to the team.