Conflict Pitfalls to Avoid

Conflict Pitfalls to Avoid

Almost everyone I know hates conflict.  Just the mention of the word creates anxiety for some.  It doesn’t take much to recall the red-hot emotions that were pumping through your body the last time conflict showed its ugly face.  Because most people have instant recall of past pain from conflict, they often will avoid conflict at any cost.  The cost is real, however.

Avoiding conflict creates a sustained level of anxiety.  It is like living in a mine field fearing that you may set off a dangerous explosion.  I have known some marriages like this.  The constant feeling that there might be chaos ahead is waring on the soul.  If you are raising children, you might experience something similar.  Even the workplace can be a dangerous place if conflict is hated and to be avoided at all costs.

Wouldn’t it be great if relationships came without conflict?  But they don’t.  Misunderstanding, different opinions, preferences, and convictions all give fodder to relationship issues.  Combine those with our own personal baggage and past pain, and it is no wonder we have struggles.  But because we are called to love one another, we can’t avoid each other.  We must learn to successfully navigate conflict in a healthy way.  In this short blog, I wanted to highlight some pitfalls to avoid in dealing with conflict.  I am not being exhaustive, but perhaps some of these ideas might help you navigate conflict in a healthy way.

  • Don’t confuse conflict with opposition: Opposition is when someone has a different idea than yours.  Conflict is when your self-worth is threatened.  Not every opposition is a conflict.  If we see them the same, we will needlessly grow tired in relationships.  The truth is that opposition to ideas can be beneficial.  Healthy opposition is great for discovering the best ideas and solutions.  Conflict is when you feel your self-worth is threatened by someone.  You may feel devalued, or rejected.  You may feel like your strengths are disregarded.  Knowing what is important to you and why you feel threatened will help you identify what is happening in the relationship.  As a believer, remember that your self-worth is not dependent on how others respond to you.  Your worth was settled on the cross 2000 years ago when God sent his Son to die for you.  When you are at odds with someone, ask the question, “Is this simple opposition or is this conflict?”  If it is opposition embrace the process of coming up with the best ideas.  If it is conflict, identify why you are in conflict and remember your identity is on firm ground in Christ.  Perhaps you might be able to work through the conflict more successfully on that footing.
  • Don’t think conflict will go away by itself: It almost always gets worse.  I have learned this over many years.  Each time I have stuffed my feelings and ignored the conflict I was feeling, it rose again as a bigger giant to slay.  Conflict is not something to be avoided.  Running away from conflict or making believe it doesn’t exist will eventually lead to greater conflict.  When you have identified a conflict, it is best to deal with it head on.  I don’t mean by driving into a head on collision.  But making a plan to address the conflict so it doesn’t become a monster is wisdom.  Failing to do so will often lead to passive aggressive behavior which will in return deepen the conflict.  Scripture teaches us to go to the person who has offended us and be reconciled one to another.  Conflict avoidance is not the way of Christ.  Relationships are too precious and valuable to not tend to the conflicts that have the capacity to separate us.  Don’t let fear keep you from addressing conflict when it exists.  There are times when it is appropriate to ignore a conflict.

The Scripture teaches us that we can overlook an offense.  Overlooking an offense is granting forgiveness without having to confront the offending person.  It is moving forward without the need to repair the relationship because forgiveness was freely given.  “Overlooking” however is not the same as suppressing or ignoring conflict.  The difference is that when we overlook an offense, we forget about it and it doesn’t impact our dealings with the offending party.

  • Remember the needs of the other person: When we get into a conflict our tendency in the middle of the emotional moment is to forget the needs of the other person.  When everything is going well in a relationship, we keep three things in focus; our own needs, the needs of others, and the problem we are trying to solve.  But as soon as we feel threatened, the needs of the other person drops out of focus and we tend to only focus on ourselves and the problem.  If the conflict persists, we even forget about the problem and only think about self-preservation.  Philippians 2 reminds that us we are to have the same attitude as Christ who humbled himself and emptied himself taking on the form of a servant.  Paul says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil 2:4 NIV).”  We can’t just forget about the needs and interests of others.  Rather we need to identify those needs and be careful in how we express our thoughts in light of those needs.  If we can do that and not dismiss their needs or let them get out of focus, we will be more successful in navigating conflict.

I hope these thoughts will help you as you navigate through conflict.  I realize that we can do everything well and people may still have conflict with us.  That is why Paul instructed us to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Rom 14:19).  We may find ourselves in conflict when we are led by the Spirit of God.  The Spirit of God will also instruct us how to love those people, by praying for them and blessing them (love our enemies).

If you have had Corestrengths training, you have greater awareness about your own passions that exist in your soul and how your motivations impact your relationships.  Use this insight to better address the needs of others and to turn to Christ for the needs of your own soul.  May the Holy Spirit grant you self-control in the midst of the emotional strife and challenges of living together as fallen beings under the grace of God.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.