I have always hated conflict.
In the middle of particularly stressful arguments, I just want to cower behind a sign that says, “Can’t we all just get along?”
But I learned an important lesson from an argument I had with a family member. In this situation, we both felt strongly that we were in the right. I quickly got frustrated with how the discussion was going. I’m not a good debater, and he presented his points with a confidence that was hard to contradict. I did my best to state my points respectfully, but it didn’t seem to matter.
My words felt weak.
I felt weak.
I tried not to let my frustration get the best of me, but when he left, I broke down in tears. I felt discouraged and humiliated.
A couple of hours later, he came back. I braced myself for another frustrating argument, but his words surprised me.
“Thanks,” he said. “Thanks for listening.”
He told me how much it meant to him that I’d heard him out, even though I didn’t agree with him. In the end, neither of our opinions had changed, but we understood each other better.
What I had thought was a disastrous conflict turned out to be an opportunity to build a stronger relationship. That simple exchange made me think a lot about how I relate to others during conflicts and the importance of simply listening.
President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught: “Followers of Christ should be examples of civility. We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs.”1
I’ve found that as I’ve tried to truly listen to understand the other party—not just to prepare my counterpoint—the conflict becomes easier to resolve. Listening doesn’t mean you have to agree with or like what you hear. And it doesn’t mean you have to change your mind. It just means you are giving the other person the chance to be heard.
That learning experience with my family member shaped the outcome of another conflict I had. A few months ago, I had a disagreement with a friend, and it ended in an ugly, messy falling-out that splintered our friend group and left a lot of awkward tension behind. At first, I wanted to patch things up, but I was afraid of making the situation worse, so I avoided speaking with her.
Eventually, she messaged me, laying out her perspective in a direct but civil way. I was grateful she was being respectful, but I was still petrified. I spent hours that night crafting a response, my hands shaking as I typed. I ended up with a lengthy message that I felt was risky to send but necessary to say. I decided to let it sit for a while, and one thought kept coming back to me: “Is it Christlike?”
I thought about how Jesus confronted the Pharisees (see Matthew 22:15–46) and cast the money changers from the temple (see John 2:13–16). I knew that being Christlike sometimes meant saying things that people didn’t want to hear. But I kept thinking, “The difference is that Jesus understands this person perfectly, and I don’t.”
I decided to pray about what to say and then sleep on it. In the morning, I responded with a message addressing each of her points, acknowledging that I’d hurt her, and sincerely apologizing. I explained why I had made certain choices and was honest about my feelings but careful not to sound accusatory or unkind.
“Thanks for explaining your side,” I concluded, “and thanks for hearing me out.”
To my relief, she responded positively. We were both glad to resolve the conflict peacefully.
I was again struck by how important it was to simply listen.
When she explained her feelings, I was surprised by how similar they were to mine. While I couldn’t understand her perfectly, the way Jesus does, my view of her and the situation shifted as I listened and tried to understand her feelings. I could see that, like me, she wanted to be heard, respected, and loved.
And isn’t that what we all want?
It’s helpful to ask ourselves why someone might identify with a viewpoint we disagree with. When we listen to understand and see the reasons behind someone else’s opinions, we can find things in common, which helps us find a solution and reduce contention.
You might not change someone else’s attitude or behavior, but you can control your own. I’ve found that when I take care to control my emotions and express myself calmly and respectfully, the conversation tends to be more productive. When I show someone that I’m making a sincere effort to understand them, they realize they don’t have to be defensive anymore. The situation then deescalates, and we’re able to just talk. At the end, I often hear, “Thanks for listening.”
I used to think that being a peacemaker meant being submissive and allowing people to trample you. But I’ve learned that peacemaking is not passive or permissive.
Peacemaking includes showing love to someone you disagree with by seeing past their opinions to the person they are underneath. It takes patience, faith, and work. In the moments we strive to understand someone we strongly disagree with, we are more like the Savior. He loves and understands each person perfectly—including people I don’t agree with.
If a disagreement occurs, we don’t have to let it turn into unbridled contention. Jesus Christ taught, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention” (3 Nephi 11:29).
We don’t all have to have the same opinions to avoid contention. Even in a perfect world, I think people will still have differing opinions. Variety in ideas, feelings, and experiences is a part of our mortal journey, and it makes our lives richer. It gives us opportunities to grow, share, deepen our relationships, and become more like the Savior. We achieve Zion when our “hearts [are] knit together in unity and love” (Mosiah 18:21)—not because we don’t have any disagreements but because we work through disagreements in a Christlike way.
I still hate conflict and anger still gets the best of me sometimes, but I’m trying every day to follow the Savior’s example of listening and being a peacemaker. The next time you find yourself in a disagreement, I invite you to listen carefully to the other person’s side, and before you voice your response, ask yourself, “Am I being Christlike?”
As I’ve striven to do this, the Spirit has guided me, and things have turned out better than I expected.