Principle #3- Get to neutral

Ever met a powerfully influential person who was great in conflict?  They are a rare breed, and have intentionally developed the disciplines and rigor to effectively govern themselves when they’d rather just react, explode, shut down, counter-attack, or evaporate.  Yet, they don’t, more often than not.

The Christian leader, at any level, can benefit greatly from skillfully navigating situations of conflict.  We’ve already pointed out, conflict is common to the Christian experience. The ministry of reconciliation, to which every believer is called, demands that it be so.

So, how can you become great in conflict?  A third principle is this: Get to neutral.

Think about a transmission for a moment.  With your car in drive, you’re “in gear” ready to move forward.  In this posture you’re ready to attack your adversary… or, to flee the scene.  Putting your car in reverse is analogous to being poised to quickly back-pedal, loading all the blame on yourself, caving-in to escape the discomfort that being in conflict represents to you.

Most of us have trained ourselves to almost immediately “throw ourselves” into drive or reverse when a controversy arises.  Postured in this way, I assert, you are prematurely predisposed to action, when learning would serve you far more effectively. There will be a time to take action, but this isn’t it.  Not just yet.

Now think about it.  How many times have you burned yourself by assuming you understood a conflicted situation and reacted too swiftly, or too harshly?  If you’ve left a wake of broken relationships in your past, I guarantee you’ve done this. Repeatedly. Maybe habitually.

A car in neutral isn’t going anywhere.  Not just yet.  So, when you get yourself to neutral, you’re resisting the impulse to move.  That’s one thing.

Here’s another.  Switzerland considers itself a neutral country.  That means that in a conflict they’re not taking sides.  They declared it up front.  They have no dog in the fight, no horse in the race, no prize-fighter in the ring.  When you’re neutral, neither do you.

Now here’s where it gets tricky.  ‘Cause in conflict, a normal, healthy person will immediately take sides with herself.  The occasionally unhealthy person might automatically knee-jerk to side with his accuser.  Sounds odd, but it does happen.  The mischief is that as soon as you lock in on one particular outcome, your humanity begins to narrow your focus. You lose objectivity and begin to collect evidence in support of the side you’re pulling for.  And, you find evidence to oppose the other side.  Trouble is, this evidence collection is not impartial.  Your humanity will cause you to ignore, overlook, to actually not see evidence that contradicts your chosen position.  It’s not that you’re dishonest, necessarily.  Your desire to be “right” trumps your objectivity.  You can test this the next time you watch a sporting event involving one of your favorite teams.  You’ll identify un-flagged fouls against your team, and scarcely notice those against their opponent!

Getting to neutral means choosing to embrace AMBIGUITY.  Entering into the discomfort of not deciding who’s right and wrong—even when you are “on trial”.

Getting to neutral allows you to stay curious, to return to a learning posture.  And, in any conflict, learning is the key to an honorable, rewarding resolution.