Raise Your Hand if You Hate Conflict

Back in 2015, Matt and I took a trip to visit Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. After hearing many opinions about said church and pastor (both negative and positive), we decided to hop off the gossip train and check out all the hearsay for ourselves.

Visiting that church was such a life-changing, healthy experience for us that I decided to blog about it afterward. 100,000+ views and multiple shares later, I found myself asking my husband to shut down the comment section on the website.

In a matter of hours, we were called everything from false prophets to undercover church attendees who were paid to ghost write an article. I had no idea who these people were. They knew nothing about me outside of content in the blog.

Still, I was sick to my stomach for days thinking about the fact that there were people in this world who disliked or even hated me, and I couldn’t do anything to change their opinion.

After asking Matt to disable the comments, I remember lying in bed with the covers over my head. I was disappointed in myself for the lack of courage and resiliency present in my life.

While most would take pity, my reaction more sense in the grand scheme of this not being a one-time event, for the sick feeling deep in my core wasn’t new or adverse. Rather, this sinking sensation had become like an unwanted friend; it was the same familiar companion that came around anytime I had a conversation with someone that involved opposing views.

While my psyche could blame it on the blog, I knew this is who I was on the inside all the time – someone who was afraid of any type of conflict. My initial instinct to conflict was always to first run and hide, similarly to what I was doing at the time under a heavy comforter in a dark room.

Last week, Matt described three categories of people that we all fall into when it comes to conflict. If you’re like me and can raise your hand after description No. 1 (people who try to run from conflict), then welcome to the club.

It’s a non-confrontational party where problems find no solutions and leaders don’t grow in their capacity, yet we all remain unoffended and passive. Sounds great, right? (Some of you are probably screaming, “Yes!”)

In my mind, conflict was always associated with anger. Conflict meant broken relationships. Conflict was connected to a power struggle. These connotations had stemmed from a plethora of examples in my past.

While all true examples, they were not healthy examples. Though unaware of it at the time, staring at the ceiling that evening was the start of my journey toward health in conflict.

Unwilling to allow things to continue the way they were, here are the practical steps I took to gain courage, confidence and competence toward resolving peace with others.

1. My perception of conflict was redirected.

The most ironic (or rather, divine) moment of this story is what happened next. Studying in the middle of my master’s degree program, my scheduled class for the following semester was “Managing Change and Conflict.”

Thankfully, I was exposed to several resources and books that crafted my perspective toward opportunities for healthy conflict.

One of the most earth-shattering lessons I received through reading is the thought presented by Ken Sande in “The Peace Maker.” In essence, conflict could and should be viewed as opportunities to represent Christ and glorify God. What could prove better than disagreement in the life of a disciple to show that God is real and has transformed us from the inside out?

I can admit – it was easier for me to study conflict when receiving a grade afterward. Still, my point is there are many valid, proven, faith-based resources out there that can change the way we think about conflict.

I would argue that our go-to source of sifting conflict is asking someone else what they would do. Reading books though that can provide Scripture and/or data from unbiased authorities on the subject, which in turn offers clear approaches that are not privy to our situation.

If you're committed to the process of growing in the area of conflict resolution, my first suggestion is to pick up a nice hardcover and find a few minutes a day to renew your thinking.

“Pride leads to conflict, but those who take advice are wise.” (Proverbs 13:10)

2. Self-awareness was increased.

Spoiler alert – as people, we are not all the same. (Shocker, right?)

Take a blank canvas that represents your life, splatter on some colors of personality, major life events, family upbringing, etc. and you’ll find a unique piece that doesn’t represent anyone else’s picture. So if we are so uniquely different, why should we all be expected to handle conflict identically?

Scripture gives clear parameters as to responses for some moments of conflict, but not all are so easily defined. In addition to that, our best bet isn’t to just repeat what someone else did in hopes that it sticks. Conflict resolution isn’t just about understanding the other person. It’s also about understanding yourself.

Matt and I are huge proponents about using tools for further self-awareness. Just because we know how we reacted and how we are feeling doesn’t necessarily mean we understand the why behind any of our reactions.

Sites like 16personalities.com and tests such as the Conflict Management Style Quiz (download here) were extremely beneficial toward becoming more mindful and conscience of my predispositions, anger triggers and temperament. Therefore – knowing more about myself helped me know more about interacting with others.

Based on the Myers Briggs Test (16personalities.com), I’m an ENFJ personality. ENFJ’s are tolerant, altruistic and passionate leaders. These are great strengths – until pared with weakness such as sensitivity, being overly idealistic and struggling to make tough decisions.

This recipe makes for a person who doesn’t say anything about a disagreement until it hits a boiling point, who’s passion comes across as anger and who’s feelings get hurt more easily in an argument. Fun stuff, am I right?!

Thanks to some self-evaluation, I was able to take this information and find some intentional counter actions that weren’t my natural go to responses.

  1. Speak up earlier or let it go entirely, 
  2. Spend more time (yes, even days) thinking out responses rather than reacting, 
  3. If the conversation goes negative, take a break and come back to it.

Paired with my compromising conflict management style, these are just a few steps that truly only came by developing some more self-awareness. If you had to pick anything to start with, I would begin with these.

3. Experience became my best friend.

Shortly after my crawl in a hole and hide moment described at the beginning, I had the ‘opportunity to glorify God through conflict’ by engaging with someone in the community who disagreed with a decision I had made at the church.

Instead of receiving my answer as final, their solution was to show up at the church Sunday and speak to someone else, not mentioning my answer and our previous conversation.

When everything came to light, my pastor said he was going to handle it. My husband even said he was going to handle it. In the moment, that’s exactly what I wanted them to do!

But, with a sick stomach and a pounding heart (you know what I’m talking about if you hate conflict) I begged them both to let me handle it – for the sole purpose of me getting better at it.

I actually can’t say that I handled the conversation as well as I could, BUT the point was I engaged in it. The next time conflict came, the sick feeling didn’t stay as long. The next time a disagreement happened, a solution was found faster. I’m not the model example of conflict resolution today, but I’m not near where I used to be.

My suggestion is definitely not to find conflict or create it with others. Instead though when it comes (and it will come), engage it with all the strength and wisdom God gives you.

“So be strong and courageous…” (Deut. 31:6)

I still hate conflict. My first feeling inside is still sometimes to run and hide. These things may never change for me or even for you.

You will change though through the process when you commit to it, and Christ will shine through you as we submit ourselves to each other in humility to find common ground in any situation.

“…And all of you, serve each other in humility, for "God opposes the proud but favors the humble." (1 Peter 5:5)