top of page

Clarify to Avoid Conflict

Communication is complicated. Clarity is cloistered. Conflict is often the consequence.

On her second anniversary, Marilyn

Dowell’s husband sent her flowers. He

insists that he told the florist to put this message on the card: "Happy Anniversary, Year Number 2. Love, Don."

You can understand why Marilyn is still unhappy about the message that actually arrived. It read: “Happy Anniversary. You're Number 2. Love, Don.”

That sort of miscommunication happens to all of us. It is easy to misunderstand, easy to jump to faulty conclusions and easy to attack because of the confusion.

That’s why God advises us to “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Before we seek to constructively criticize, we should first clarify – make sure we understand what is really being said and done – and why. Lives may depend on that.

After completing the military conquest of the promised land, two of the tribes of Israel headed back to their allotted homeland on the east side of the Jordan River (for the full story, read Joshua 22). Before crossing over, they built an altar.

This infuriated the ten tribes to the west. They interpreted the act as defiant rebellion against God who had commanded that all sacrifices be offered only on the tabernacle altar by the designated priests. “How could you?” they cried (22:16). They were certain they knew the motives of their cousins from across the river, and they gathered troops to launch an attack.

Often, we do the same. We think we know that someone meant to hurt our feelings or that what he said (or did) was meant to intentionally disrespect us. And, we’re ready to attack.

Fortunately, somebody in Israel suggested a simple but often overlooked step. “Hey, before we kill our cousins,” he said. “Let’s make sure we understand this correctly. Let’s clarify.”

What a surprise to learn they had completely misinterpreted the action! When they heard the explanation, “they were pleased” (v. 30), and the crisis was averted.

Communication is complicated. Clarity is cloistered, and chaos may be the consequence. Or, we can clarify and avoid crises. As Stephen Covey puts it, let’s “seek first to understand” before trying to be understood. When something disturbs you, clarify before you respond. Ask what was meant. Repeat what you think was said (or done) to see if your understanding is correct.

Listen. Really listen. And live.


bottom of page