The only people I know who like conflict are the ones confident they are going to win. These days, their victory is at risk of being labeled “bullying.” We live in an era of political correctness and individual rights trumping those of broader society. This trend can be summed up in two words: conflict avoidance. In this posting, I look at three perils of conflict avoidance and what you can do to be more confident in mind, heart and soul when you need to deal with something that sends shivers down your spine.
The number one peril of avoiding conflict is that you get hit by a tsunami later on. Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage and divorce. In my own divorce and in those of couples I have coached and met over the year, this is the overwhelming truth. One person silently builds up resentments while the other ignores or deflects the issues. Years go by and the resentments grow. One day, boom! One partner leaves, whether outright or in the arms of another man or woman. The conflict avoider is left spinning, wondering what hit her or him.
The number two peril of conflict avoidance is that resentments eat you up along the way. Avoiding conflicts with people who matter to you leaves the conflict stuck deep within your inner being. Every time you come close to the person, your mind replays the injustices. Your adrenaline soars and your heart pumps a little harder. Multiply this by hundreds of conflicts over ten to thirty years and you’ve got health problems that typically end with “itis.” Furthermore, in order to cope with the inner angst, you need to numb the pain. The name of most pain killers usually ends with “aholic.”
The number three peril of conflict avoidance is that you never get good at it. You only get good at avoiding it. I have seen many creative ways to avoid conflict and have used most of them myself. A popular one for Christians, especially leaders and pastors, is to get involved (or dragged in) and then avoid the person. This does wonders for breaking trust and shaming our faith.
Another common tactic to avoid conflict is to be inappropriately nice. During a divorce, for example, being nice can be very threatening. I tried this in the early days of my separation in my first marriage. My ex quite wisely closed off all avenues of communication. She knew me well enough to know I was being nice in order to get her cooperation, something she had no interest in giving at that time. This is better named as ‘manipulation.’
In my coaching, I teach clients to become aware of the source of their response to conflict. Is it coming from the mind? You can tell because you’ve analyzed the problem, probably half to death! Is it coming from the heart? You can tell because you feel the bubbling cauldron of anger or anxiety. Is it coming from the soul? You will know because you are coming from a place of love. You may still feel nervous. You may still think you have a strong, logical case for your position. But your focus is on how to help the other person while solidly grounded within your own boundaries. In The Non-Judgmental Christian, I describe this as Support their space and Resist their incursions into your space. Facing conflicts regularly teaches us the wisdom to know the difference, as we pray in the Serenity Prayer.
Problems solved by your mind are limited by your logical skills and the breadth of your expertise. Problems solved by your heart are biased by your emotions, most of which are likely to trigger a backlash. These are the planks in your eye. However, conflicts solved by the Spirit are no-lose. You are at peace whether you get the outcome you want or not. The Spirit isn’t out to win, unlike the ego-flesh part of us. The Spirit is out to serve and to love. From this position, we see and trust that whatever happens next is his will.
Something changes within you. The words you choose and the tone of voice you convey also change. Others feel the difference. They are affected. Whether you get the outcome you want or not, you have become a powerful person anchored in peace – the peace that surpasses all knowing.
p.s. If you find this post helpful, please share it with your social media network. Perhaps it will help someone you know in ways you may never know.