I hate conflict.
But seriously, I hate it!
Conflict scares the crap out of me.
Unfortunately, none of us will ever be able to fully avoid conflict. So… how do we handle conflict during the holidays, when emotions, expectations, and stress are already at an all-time high? I think the main answer lies in viewing conflict as “community building” rather than a sparring match. Here are a few thoughts on that.
- Don’t head into a conflict with the goal of “winning.” That only results in escalation. You accuse your opponent, who grows defensive and then accuses you. Likewise you grow defensive and raise your voice. And so on and so forth. Once both parties are angry and on the defensive, no productive communication will happen.
- Conflict is often a signal that something deeper is going on at the heart level. I remember having coffee at a local cafe once with a new friend. She was emphatically telling me about some abstract concept that I already had a pretty good grasp on. To me, it felt condescending (like she thought I didn’t already know these things), so I snapped, “I already know this,” in order to get her to stop. This deeply hurt her feelings and she immediately told me so. She shared how she was just externally processing through these thoughts and had wanted my validation to make sure she was on the right track. When I had shut her down with that comment, she’d felt deeply rejected. Then she asked me why I’d responded that way. I shared how, growing up, my brother had consistently forced different thoughts and ideas upon me, or explained things to me as if I were stupid. I always felt manipulated and demeaned when he used that tone of voice with me. My friend’s tone had reminded me of that, even though her heart had been in a completely different place.
- When handled properly, conflict leads to deeper levels of friendship and intimacy. Looking back on the incident at the coffee shop, as much as I hate conflict, I am soooo thankful that my friend confronted me! Through learning about her places of insecurity, and her learning about my places of pain, we have grown even closer as friends, and we have been able to relate to one another better. We identified ways we could love and support each other. It’s been wonderful!
- Clearly communicate your expectations. I believe that one of the top causes of conflict is uncommunicated expectations. Seriously, people are not mind readers! If you want your spouse or relative or friend to do something, then tell them (in a loving way, of course). Don’t just expect certain treatment and then passive-aggressively play the martyr when it doesn’t happen. Share what’s on your heart. If they can’t meet your expectations, that’s ok. At least you know that in advance and it gives them the opportunity to brainstorm alternatives or perhaps meet you half way.
- Above all, choose love and believe the best. Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or boast. It keeps no record of wrongs. Remember how messed up you are and how much you need a Savior. Then choose to extend some grace to those around you.