Making Peace with Conflict

By on November 1, 2012

By Nancie Carmichael –

“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
Romans 12:18

As the election grinds down, I will frankly be very happy to have an end to all the negative campaigning. I hate conflict. Lately, though, I’m seeing that conflict is actually inevitable, as one definition of it is that it is a difference heated up, and we all have differences. The positive aspect of dealing with a conflict is that it can help us clarify the real issue. It can help us confront what’s at stake in order to see how to proceed. I have avoided conflict like the plague for years, but finally, it’s an area where I am learning to grow.

I am a classic Peacemaker, wanting everyone to be happy, and I think I have a lot of company. Yes…it’s an impossible task! Still, we try. It is true there are contentious people in the world, and some battles are worth fighting and some are not. Abraham Lincoln, who ultimately faced conflict in order to bring justice and peace to a torn nation said, “Let minor differences, and personal preferences, if there be such, go to the winds.”

In order to grow, we must understand what motivates us. We see that our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness if we do not have the courage to understand and confront our own selves. For the “peacemaker,” approval of others is important, and it can feel dangerous to offend or upset others by revealing true feelings. Conflict avoidance can turn into passive-aggressive anger. The conflict gets smothered and leaks out in unhealthy ways. Stuffing our feelings can create a volcano effect and actually cause the relationship trauma we are trying so hard to avoid in the first place.

Unresolved conflict can be costly. It raises one’s stress level and lowers the immune system. We can be creative about avoiding conflict. Just recently, I realized I was avoiding my annual doctor’s appointment because I didn’t want to be confronted about my high blood pressure and the ten pounds I haven’t lost since the last doctor’s appointment. Silly, isn’t it?  I can’t deal with something I deny.

Avoiding conflict can damage relationships, too. It can lead to feeling misunderstood and result in emotional distress, causing a barrier in the very intimacy and trust that we so desperately want. As I reflect on how I’ve often handled conflict in the past, I’ve seen that if conversations get heated, I change the subject or leave the room. I just don’t want to go there. Why do I (and people like me) find conflict so difficult?

According to Stephen Turner in Conflict in Organization: Practical Solutions any Manager Can Use, conflict avoidance may be a learned and conditioned response out of fear of abandonment or rejection. It may be a way of trying to gain acceptance or approval. I am my father’s child: I never recall him raising his voice, or arguing with my mother. He would simply walk out of the room. Avoiding conflict can also be the easy way out—giving in simply because it can be messy and hard work to deal with issues. The bottom line is fear, and maybe at times, laziness. But especially in a marriage or in a work situation, avoiding differences do not solve the problem; instead it can lead to greater problems of misunderstanding or emotional distance.

Learning to understand and resolve conflict in a respectful and loving way can create greater emotional closeness, not distance. Through respectful confrontation, we help define who we are to each other. Healthy conflict requires learning to use appropriate assertiveness. I highly recommend David Augsburger’s book, Caring Enough to Confront, as well as Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend. These books have been invaluable in helping me to learn to speak assertively, honestly and lovingly.

David Mace, a respected therapist, had keen insight: “Conflict is not something tragic, or to be feared, or to run from. It is a normal part of any close relationship. It is in fact raw material to be worked on and transmuted into an opportunity to grow. A conflict may even be welcomed, because it pinpoints an area where an adjustment has to be made—very much as an unusual noise in a car engine locates a fault, when corrected, makes the machine run smoothly.”

I have come to realize that the first person I must confront is my own self—that I am called to understand and confront my weaknesses, my motivations and my fears. There are times to admit we are wrong, to own our own stuff, to not take ourselves so seriously. While I’ll never be a “Judge Judy,” and nothing makes me happier than to have everyone else happy—I’m learning the value of speaking the truth in love. I’m also learning the value of seeing myself as a unique person with certain gifts that God wants me to use, and then take the responsibility to confront and own that life.

(Now if all those senators and congress people could just work out their differences for the sake of the nation…!)

Stop and consider:

  • Do you find yourself avoiding conflict at all costs?
  • What have been the results?
  • In what practical and honest way can you stop running from conflict?
  • In a tense situation, stop and calmly assess the conflict. Take a deep breath. Thoughtfully express your feelings, using “I” statements, not “you” or blaming statements. Listen. Respond calmly.

 

Nancie Carmichael graduated in 2012 from George Fox Evangelical Seminary with her MA in Spiritual Formation. She is a speaker and author of several books, including, “Lord, Bless My Child” (with her husband, Bill)“Selah—Time to Stop, Think, and Step into Your Future;” “Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning”. Contact her at [email protected] and visit her website, nanciecarmichael.com

Nancie Carmichael

About Nancie Carmichael

Nancie Carmichael and her husband Bill have been involved with the writing and publishing field for many years as they published Virtue Magazine and Christian Parenting Magazine. They now own a book publishing company, Deep River Books. Nancie and Bill have written several books together including: Lord, Bless My Child; and Seven Habits of a Healthy Home. Nancie has written: Your life, God’s Home; Desperate for God: How He Meet Us When We Pray; The Comforting Presence of God; Selah: Time to Stop, Think, and Step into your Future; and her latest book, Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning. Bill and Nancie make their home in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and are parents to five married children and grandparents to ten. Nancie received her Master’s of Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2012, and in 2005, received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Western Baptist College. Website: nanciecarmichael.com

One Comment

  1. Amandah

    November 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Great post!

    My mom and sister are the “peacemakers” in our family. Neither of them likes conflict and run from it. Unfortunately, this works against them. You can be loving and levelheaded, even when you’re in the midst of conflict. Calmly say what you have to say and leave it. Everyone has different viewpoints. I wish all of us would work together to find common ground.

    P.S.

    I too cannot wait until the election is over!! The ads are ridiculous and the candidates look bad. They don’t exude leadership. But they don’t see it that way. I wish candidates would state their positions and not attack their opponents. It reminds me of a schoolyard and the game of “He said, She said.” Unreal.

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Making Peace with Conflict