Normalize Conflict With These Three Phrases

By Scott Couchenour

Normalize ConflictAsk a victim of burnout what led to their demise. Chances are, they will include some sort of interpersonal conflict with one or more other people. Unresolved conflict saps the energy from the best of us. It’s intimidating. It’s depressing.

For a lot of people, the problem is simply the fact that they don’t know what to say or do. The unknown becomes the tail that wags the proverbial dog. Let’s end this. Here are three phrases you can begin to use that will normalize conflict:

1) “When you do _____…” Be very specific here. Don’t bring up other actions the person does that bugs you.

2) “I feel _____.” Be honest. State in simple facts what the person’s action does to you.

3) “I’d like you to _____.” Ask the person to take a different path.

Example: “When you wear that loud shirt I can’t stop laughing enough to get my work done. I’d like you to consider wearing it at times other than work.”

Another Example: “When you talk down to me like that, I feel demoralized. I’d like you to communicate with me using more dignity.


Now, just walking up to the person and saying these 3 phrases is not healthy. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

* Don’t bring up everything. Choose your battles, as they say. If the other person is doing something that is creating a wedge between you, it’s worthy to bring up.

* Stop and ask if it’s you. Are you overtired? Are you overcommitted? Is it fair for you to bring up something the other person is doing when, if you were not so grumpy, it wouldn’t be an issue?

* Pray. It’s important to keep the Holy Spirit in the loop with what’s going on. More importantly, it’s best to keep yourself in the loop with what the Holy Spirit is doing. You have no idea what the other person is dealing with. Prayer will help in mysterious ways we have no way of fully comprehending.

* Don’t react when emotions are high. Create a buffer between the emotion and your talk with the person. This will also give you time to rehearse, yes rehearse. There’s nothing wrong with practicing what you will say when your goal is the health of the relationship.

* Remember your tone speaks volumes. If you approach the other person with the 3 phrases in an arrogant or condescending manner, it won’t matter what you say. They will hear one thing: I’m being attacked.

* Remember what’s really important: relationships. The key is the health of the relationship you have with the other person, not the score of the game. Don’t use these 3 phrases to “one up” them.


Here are a couple of resources if interpersonal conflict is a real issue in your church staff or office and you want to learn more:

Difficult Conversations, by the Harvard Negotiation Project

Make Peace With Anyone, by David J. Lieberman

Scott Couchenour

Scott Couchenour is a certified life coach and founder of Serving Strong, a resourcing and coaching service to ministry leaders. Serving Strong exists to eliminate burnout from the ministry equation. He is also VP of Operations for Cogun, Inc., a company that helps churches expand their ministry facilities through consulting, design coordination, and construction. Scott flies around in an empty nest in Ohio with his wife of over 26 years. He has two grown children. Scott believes in the local church and pursues a God-given passion to enable pastors to serve strong. You can visit Scott's website at and follow him on Twitter. Follow @servingstrong