3 Things an Epic Splinter Taught me About Conflict

I must have been six years old or so when my first memorable splinter incident happened.  By memorable, I’m not referring to how my finger acquired the splinter, but rather the terrifying extraction process. It was Grandmother vs. splinter in her 1950’s pink bathroom. Most people in our family called her “Sissy,” short for “sister” and a term of endearment, but it always made me chuckle because of all the things my grandmother was, a sissy wasn’t one of them. She was strong, direct, and loving. And that’s exactly how she approached the splinter situation.  

She sat me down as she pulled out a needle and little green bottle of Compho-Phenique from the cabinet. (Oh, the unforgettable smell of Compho-Phenique! It was her go-to because it evidently cured everything!) For the life of me, I didn’t understand why we couldn’t just leave it alone. It wasn’t that big and it wasn’t bothering me, yet Grandmother insisted it had to be removed. I tried to be brave, but my lip quivered uncontrollably. “Oh Meredith, don’t cry!” she said in a high-pitched matter-of-fact tone as she moved closer and closer, “This won’t hurt a bit and it will be over before you know it!” I’m not sure when someone last moved toward her finger with a needle, but in my estimation, a needle plus my finger was going to equal pain. But I was an obedient child so I let her pry my finger from the death grip of my other hand. I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to actually watch her dig the splinter out, and I hate to admit it, but she was right. It really didn’t hurt much. I mean, it wasn’t exactly pain free, but bearable. Even for a six-year-old. And let’s be honest, the band-aid was the best part.

Every good childhood includes a few epic splinter stories – it means we tried new things, fell down in the process, and lived to tell about it.

Conflict and splinters have a lot in common.  In the same way neglected splinters fester, become infected and cause unnecessary pain, unresolved conflict breeds disunity and unnecessary emotional pain. While everyone knows it should be addressed, the thought of actually facing it head-on causes anxiety and straight up fear. As in your tummy feels queasy and your palms get sweaty. Can I have an amen?

But hang on friend - there’s some good news here: healthy conflict resolution is a learned skill, which means you can learn it, and you can teach others as well.

Remove the Splinter

Every great leader has endured conflict and lived to tell about it. As a leader of your family, your organization, and your team, here are 3 “must-do’s” when teaching yourself and your people to address conflict:

  1. Deal with conflict exactly how you would a splinter: remove it quickly, even if it hurts a little (or even a lot). Waiting only breeds bitterness and distance.
  2. Follow my grandmother’s lead: be strong, direct, and loving.
  3. Plan how you will handle conflict in your family or your team in advance. After all, whether you layout the rules of engagement in advance or not, conflict is going to happen. You are better off prepared!

Jesus lays out a pretty clear plan in Matthew 18 on how we should address conflict. It starts with going directly to the person who offended us, and then it’s kind of like the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” No matter how much I know Jesus’ way is best, there’s often a big gap between what I know and what I do.

My most natural self wants to do everything opposite of what scripture says:

  • I want to talk it through (a.k.a. vent) to everyone but the person who hurt me.
  • I want to move in the opposite of their direction because I hate confrontation.
  • I want to feel justified in my hurt and anger rather than being quick to forgive and extend grace (see Colossians 3).

I still regret some past poorly handled conflicts, mostly because I waited, avoided, or didn’t respond in love, but I’m grateful for some wins too.

The life of every leader includes a few epic conflict stories – it means we engaged in relationships with passion, were let down a few times, failed a few times ourselves, and lived to tell about it. It means we now know what not to do. It means we’ve had some intimate reminders of our need to both give and receive grace.

Unity is a beautiful thing, and it’s worth fighting for - especially in our families, on our teams, and in our close friendships. And when a splinter appears, grab a needle and the Compho-Phenique and get to work.

Please share this post with a friend & join the conversation by commenting below: How do you plan to address conflict differently in the future?