the shape of leadership

From Avoidance to Action

Fostering Conflict Resolution Skills in Gen Z

Kent Ingle on July 1, 2024

Let’s agree to disagree.” When conflict arises, these four words are commonly used to sidestep disputes. Perhaps we don’t feel like we have the time or mental energy to engage in an argument, so it becomes our go-to phrase.

From “quiet quitting” to “ghosting,” it seems easier to end communication with someone than face uncomfortable feelings head-on. We can often avoid confrontation because of fearing how the other person will respond. Will they be angry? Will it harm our relationship? Is it worth bringing up?

Yet, when engaged correctly, conflict does the opposite. When addressing disagreements, we find better solutions, increase understanding of ourselves and others, and develop emotional intelligence. Engaging in conflict teaches positive communication skills and strengthens relationships by building trust.

Conflict management is a soft skill we all need — especially within our teams. A Harris Poll survey commissioned by Fortune revealed that 82% of managers said soft skills of their Gen Z hires need more guidance, time, and training. Author and speaker Simon Sinek has noted there’s a concerning trend of younger generations being conflict avoidant.

Having joined the workforce during the pandemic, younger generations may be less familiar with traditional forms of communication — and conflict management is one of those.

When positively approaching conflicts head-on, we can teach young adults on our teams the best ways to handle disagreements. Below are three steps for helping Gen Z members deal with conflict.


Retreat and Regroup

Many youth sports teams use a 24-hour rule when it comes to conflict after a game. Why? Because it keeps coaches and parents from arguing based on their emotions in the heat of the moment. During time away, each side can reflect on the incident and detach themselves from the situation. Ultimately, it provides time to cool off.

Encourage young adults to apply a similar rule when encountering conflict. Take a moment to pause and reflect. Ask themselves what happened, what their part was in the conflict, and why the other person reacted the way they did. Remind young adults not to assign meaning to what someone did without asking them.

Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” By taking a breather, young adults learn to collect their thoughts, ask for guidance from a mentor, and act based on wisdom rather than emotion.


Reach Out and Resolve

After collecting one’s thoughts, it’s time to discuss what happened. It’s important they do not sit too long in the retreat step and move to quickly set a time to meet with the other person. During the conversation, encourage them to be the first to take responsibility for their part in the conflict.

If we want to have healthy teams, we must demonstrate how to navigate uncomfortable conversations through a biblical lens.

As Matthew 7:1–5 says, we should take the “plank” out of our own eye first before trying to remove a “speck” out of someone else’s.

Remind a young adult that the other person may be unaware of the circumstances. As they meet with the individual, encourage them to discuss how they saw the situation as a conflict, ask clarifying questions, and listen to understand the other person’s perspective.

Their goal should be to work toward a resolution that integrates both perspectives. Make sure they ask the other person if it’s OK to move forward. The last thing they want to do is believe a situation has been resolved when it hasn’t.

In conflict resolution, one’s focus should be on seeing the world through the eyes of someone else. It will help a young adult appreciate another’s worldview and perhaps even inform their own.


Reflect and Recognize

One of the most important things a young adult can do after any situation is reflect on what happened — whether it’s keeping a journal or writing notes on a phone. Self-reflection enables them to uncover insights that are crucial for navigating through life with wisdom.

In their notes, have young adults write responses to questions surrounding a conflict. How was the conflict handled? How do they view their approach the conflict (things done well and to improve on)? How did the other person respond to what was said?

When reflecting on what happened, it gives them an idea of how they can positively respond to conflicts that arise in the future. For those who view disagreements negatively, reflection can help shape their perception of it in the future. Through processing the conflict, they will see how their dialogue benefited the relationship with that individual.

Discuss how in every circumstance God calls us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9) and to forgive as Christ does (Colossians 3:13). Young adults must understand how to address conflict in a biblical manner.

Conflict can be a catalyst for us to learn, grow, and mature in our thinking, decisions, and actions. If we want to have healthy teams, we must demonstrate how to navigate uncomfortable conversations through a biblical lens.

When we train others (and ourselves) to be open to conflict, they will start to view it as an opportunity for growth instead of something to shy away from.
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