Things are NOT Always as They Appear

The Second Article in a Series on Addressing Conflict in Missional Enterprises

Last week, we considered forgiveness as the first step to addressing the “outward-facing” aspects of conflict (addressing the person I perceive is creating the conflict).1 A second step is to try to understand the other person’s perspective.

During a stint with a missional enterprise employing both believers and non-believers, I can remember engaging with a colleague (let’s call her Maddie) who was not a follower of Jesus and seemed to be “on edge” working in a company trying to operate on biblical principles. Management had tried to convey to Maddie that she was valued as an individual and that it wasn’t anyone’s place to judge her. They appreciated her as a person and just asked her to do the job she’d been hired for.

Since I was in Sales and Maddie was in Accounting, we were asked to “tag-team” on addressing some delinquent accounts. So, for three to four weeks we met fairly frequently to touch base on our various targets. Our tag-teaming started paying off, and we ended up having several stimulating discussions about not only unpaid bills and human behavior but also about faith and spirituality. And when I’d pass her office on the way to my own, it seemed like some genuine warmth and openness had developed – whether it was through a brief greeting, a 5-15 second exchange, or simply a smile.

As our project started winding down, though, I noticed an abrupt shift – and I was really taken aback by it all.  Brief greetings seemed bothersome, a short exchange seemed forced and uncomfortable, and a smile from Maddie was non-existent. Initially, I was tempted to take offense. But then I started to wonder whether I’d said (or done) something to offend her. After 10-12 days of seeking the Lord’s guidance amidst all the frostiness, I sensed the Spirit prompting me to simply address the issue head-on.

Shortly after that, I stopped by Maddie’s office, asked her if she had a minute, and said something like this: “Maddie, I’ve felt kind of hurt the past two to three weeks because I’ve enjoyed working with you – and it’s been fun tag-teaming on these past due accounts. But I’ve sensed that you really don’t want to relate to me anymore. Did I by chance do something to offend you?” At that, Maddie’s jaw dropped, her eyes bulged in genuine shock, and she blurted out, “Oh, Bill!  I’m so sorry! I had no idea that was the way I’d been coming across. No, you didn’t do or say anything. I’ve just been dealing with a lot of issues lately, and I’m probably bringing them to work with me. I’m sorry . . . ”

Maddie and I were able to talk a little more about her situation, but I just mostly listened, showed concern, and tried not to pry. But the lesson I took from this was that things are not always as they seem. What I thought was some kind of conflict between Maddie and me was rather an internal conflict Maddie was going through.

Here are some thoughts to consider when trying to address the outward-facing conflict:

  • Don’t allege intent until you’ve checked it out – things are not always as they seem. Just because it seems that there’s a conflict doesn’t mean that the conflict involves you.
  • Share feelings rather than judgments; people are less likely to get defensive if you are expressing feelings than they are if they feel judged.
  • Give them the opportunity to explain where they’re coming from. Asking an honest, non-threatening question does a LOT to disarm the other and encourage dialogue.


Remember: Things are not always as they appear.

Verse(s) of the Week:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. James 1:19 (ESV)


Let’s ask God this week to improve our listening and understanding skills, especially as we address conflicts in our enterprises.

1 This is an article in a series on dealing with conflict. Thanks again to Bill Weber for contributing the posts in this series. Bill is a veteran practitioner of missional enterprise and has several decades of experience leading companies in the areas of Business Development and Market Intelligence.

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