Your Conflict Sequence May Invite Others Into Conflict Without Knowing It

Your Conflict Sequence May Invite Others Into Conflict Without Knowing It

Nobody likes conflict.  So why are we so easily drawn into conflict?  Part of the answer is that we don’t understand what is going on in the soul of others in our interactions.  Another part is that we are not aware of how our own actions impact other people.  Growing in our awareness of these important interactions can help us avoid many unpleasantries. So many conflicts are avoidable if we gain some greater awareness of what is going on in our communication.

We go into conflict when what is most important to us at our core is threatened.  There are three core motivations: concern for people, concern for performance, and concern for process (doing things the right way).  We are all a mix of all three of these core motivations.  Our mix of motivations are different from each other, so our focus is different from each other.  When facing a decision, one might focus on the impact of that decision on the people involved.  They don’t want to see anyone hurt.  Another may focus on the results of the decision, desiring greater achievement and success.  Still another is focused on making sure we find the right solution, slowing down the process and thinking deeply about what the correct thing is to do.  What is most important to each of us may be different, so we weight the “facts” differently.   This explains why we have conflict.  Conflict happens when what is most important to us is threatened.

The way we resolve conflict gets a little more complicated.  Each of us has a predictable pattern of solving conflict, but it may be largely unconscious, and we tend to be unaware of our own strategies.  When our adrenaline is pumping and our hands get sweaty, we tend to react in certain ways without awareness of the impact on others.  Here is where we can get into trouble.  Some people retreat and want to process the problem deeper.  They may get quiet or even ask for time to process the issue.  Others react to conflict quite differently.  They immediately want to give into the other person as they try to preserve the relationship over getting their own way.  It doesn’t mean they agree, but they would rather lose what is important to them over losing the relationship.  Still others want to assert themselves more strongly when they experience conflict.  They communicate directly to the issue trying to find immediate solution.

All of these reactions in conflict can trigger further conflict in others, especially when there is a major shift in personality.  When a person goes into conflict, not only may they shift what is most important to them, but they may also have an accompanying change in behavior.  That change in behavior can throw other people off as they try to understand what is happening.  Sometimes the behavior can be quite jarring.  For instance, if a person is usually very agreeable wanting everyone to get along and suddenly becomes very direct and confrontational, that might trigger some emotion in you.  What is going on here?  “What did I deserve to be treated that way?”, you may ask yourself.  That shift from agreeable to confrontational can trigger a defensive posture.

What do you do when you are in conflict?  What do you want when you feel like what is most important to you is threatened?  Do you withdraw and think more deeply?  Do you give in to others to preserve the relationship?  Or do you become more confrontational and direct to solve the problem?  Knowing what you do and knowing the impact on others is critical to maintaining good relationships.

For those of you that become more confrontational and direct, you need to be aware that your behavior can feel threatening to others.  You may want to immediately solve the problem and get on the same page, but in the process of being direct in your communication and assertive in your style, you may trigger other people into deeper conflict.  This is especially true if your shift in behavior is great.  If you are normally very agreeable and suddenly find yourself asserting your opinions and being confident in your own ideas, this may be jarring to others.

Those who must watch out the most are those who are performance driven and want to win at their core.  If you are performance driven and you also become more performance driven in conflict, you run the greatest risk of unsuccessfully resolving conflict because you can be threatening to others. Performance driven people can be perceived by others as overconfident and opinionated to begin with, let alone when they double down on their strengths.  I happen to be performance driven at my core and become more performance driven in conflict.  I can tell you stories of triggering conflict in others.  I have been told that I can be intimidating when this happens.  I don’t want to cause more conflict.  But my style of conflict resolution can result in greater conflict by triggering a defensive posture in others.  Becoming aware of my tendency can keep me out of further conflict.  What I really want is to engage the problem and find resolution.  By being aware of my own tendencies and how I impact others, has helped me become more successful in solving problems without conflict.

Your conflict behavior is driven by your motivational shift when you feel threatened.  You may not become performance driven and communicate directly and become confrontational.  But your behavior can still impact others negatively.  For instance, if in conflict you get quiet and withdraw to think deeper, you may trigger conflict in another person who feels like you are withdrawing from the relationship.  You may also trigger the person who wants to engage the problem while it is on the table!  Withdrawing or being quiet can trigger further conflict as much as being confrontational.

If you are a person who would rather preserve the relationship to avoid conflict, you might constantly give in to others to obtain peace.  Over time this may build resentment in you towards others.  You may also loose your voice because peace is such a high value.  But giving in all the time to preserve relationships can also backfire as others may not trust you to be honest about your opinions.

If you become keenly aware of how you react in conflict, you will be better prepared to engage with others in a healthier manner.  You don’t have to respond in your default mode and trigger others into greater conflict.  Consider the people you are engaging with and what they are experiencing and what is most important to them.  Communicate in such a way that demonstrates that you are aware of what is important to them at their core.  Be careful that your own shift in motivation doesn’t derail your relationships.  This is not easy to do when your adrenaline is pumping!

For those of you that are followers of Christ and understand the love of the Father, remind yourself that you are a child of God.  Children of God are completely secure and safe, protected by God.  They are completely accepted by Him, and they find their significance in living for God in obedience.  Mature believers are not easily triggered when what is most important to them is threatened because they know the fullness God’s love and do not need to demand anything from other people.  This is why the Gospel of John in chapter 15 says to “abide in God’s love.”  The word “abide” is translated in French “mansion”.  It means to live in God’s house with him experiencing the fullness of His love.  Those who live this way will make an impact on society and stand out.  John says, “you will know they are Christians by their love.”

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.