Hi, my name is Siwe and I am a recovering conflict avoidant human…
So I have recently been dealing with an issue that I had never really paid attention to. Well to be fair, I didn’t think it was an issue until I got into a romantic relationship. For the longest time, I would brag about how “easy-going” I was. All my friendship conflicts or breakups were never initiated by me. No seriously, I had never really had a “confrontation” with anyone, and would proudly proclaim this as proof of how “chilled” I was whenever we talked about how we deal with conflict. I thought I was above it all, that I was just attracted to a drama-free life, lol.
Side note: I want to categorically state that conflict is not “drama”. It is healthy and necessary to address issues that are simmering in any relationship. I digress.
Anyway, like I said, I really really dislike conflict. Well, disliked – I am working on it, okay! When it comes to my personal and professional relationships, I clamp up when I need to share my own grievances. It’s actually really pretty pathetic, because I am grown!!!
The fact that this may seem confusing to those who know me, is fair. The story of how this is so, can largely be explained by my personality. Let me explain: I am an extrovert who talks a lot. I was in the debate team in high school. I am one of those people who are always willing to have intellectual and philosophical discussions about topics I know anything about. I am curious about people’s reasoning and will challenge/ push the boundary of how they got to their conclusions. I will take the arguments to their natural conclusion in most conversations. I am not afraid to seem controversial or contrarian in a conversation if I genuinely believe in the counter argument. I am all for intellectual sparring, bring on the debates! At home, I am the same. I will debate my mom on what I perceive to be problematic in her parenting style (lol, sorry mom). I will disagree with my siblings about most things, and they’ll all know where I stand. Whenever any of my siblings do dodgy things that my mom tells me about, I volunteer to confront them on their problematic ways! It’s actually not fully my fault because I am the last born, and therefore was given too much leeway to speak my mind, sometimes out of turn. Okay fine, it is my fault but you get what I am saying! In my friendships, I am known for “debating” when I don’t agree. If you tell me your drama and I think you’re the problem in the situation (or if your actions are contrary to your expressed beliefs), best believe I will tell you about it. All this to say that I get why this “conflict avoidance” thing can come as a surprise. But I have been really good at concealing this secret, haha. I do a good job of rationalising why I won’t confront issues most times, and I actually buy my own kool-aid for the most part. So I end up as one of those people who tell other people the issue and not the person directly involved. The word for people like me is a gossip. Yup, I am a shamefaced gossip.
I have been thinking about why this is the case, and working on how I can improve it. I am currently working through reasons I have been convicted by in terms of why conflict avoidance is damaging, that I want to share with you below. I don’t have all the answers on how to work on this, but I am currently employing a few things that are personally helpful to me, which I will also share below.
The issues with conflict avoidance
- Conflict avoidance is unloving
It took me getting into a romantic relationship to realise that avoiding conflict is simply not love. I mean personally, I felt like I was the most peaceful and harmonious person ever, when I would choose “peace” and being “drama-free” than to confront the issues in my relationships. For instance, if a friend of mine was always cancelling plans last minute with me, instead of having the tough conversation about how hurtful and inconvenient that is, I would simply stop making plans with that friend. I would therefore only see them either when they are the ones that made the plans or at common events. This reaction meant that there was no conflict to resolve about the issue, since I merely “removed” myself from the situation. The problem with this reaction is that is isn’t concerned with the other person. The only person I am considering when I make the decision to “remove myself from the situation” is me. The hard and I’d argue, loving thing to do would be to think about how I help my friend grow in that area. The confrontation would help my friend realise this blind spot, and hopefully work on bettering it. If my friend did not see an issue with this, communicating my boundary of not going to continue making plans with them going forward, would also indicate the seriousness of the issue to me.
Now, being in a romantic relationship means that I don’t get to just check out when there are things I don’t like. I now have to confront the issues and communicate my grievances with my partner. I think what this has helped me see is that as a Christian, and as a person committed to loving those in my life intently, I don’t (shouldn’t) get to check out simply because I can. Friendship and all other close relationships deserve this effort as well.
2. Conflict avoidance is unhealthy
I actually vividly experienced how unhealthy this is, in work settings. At work, I found that the avoidance of conflict led to some toxic and unhealthy relationships. So if my boss is constantly setting unreasonable timelines or giving unclear instructions, or if I am not getting good exposure to projects and work areas that I am interested in for instance, the avoidance of conflict does not make any of these situations better. I personally found that being avoidant led to increased anxiety for me at work, more stress and growing frustration within the team I was in. The boss on the other hand was living their best life, completely oblivious to my unhappiness. So in this instance, I was suffering all by myself. I realise in retrospect that the worst that could have happened in addressing the conflict in my team was that the boss would either sideline me and not give me the projects I wanted to be a part of, or they’d dislike me. The result of their actions would have been similar to how I was experiencing work at the time in any case, so that would not have made a difference in my circumstance, meaning I had nothing to lose really.
The thing that would have been different though is my health. Having spoken out, I most likely would have been less anxious, with less bottled up frustration and maybe with more clarity or resolution early on in that work relationship. Ultimately, the unhealthy and toxic situations, or frustrating relationships affected me the most. I ended up harbouring bitterness and frustration in my heart, things that only I was dealing with.
3. Conflict avoidance is unChristian
This realisation was the biggest one for me. In Matthew 18: 15-17, Jesus outlines how we ought to deal with disagreements we have with brothers and sisters in Christ: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector“.
So what exactly are we meant to do here? The scripture outlines that the first thing to do is to 1) go to your brother, tell him his fault. Where this does not work, we are told to 2) take one or two witnesses along with us. Should that also not work, 3) we ought to tell the church. The scripture outlines that the objective here is to win him over (gain a brother).
Taking this scripture seriously has helped me a lot. For one, I finally noted that Jesus does not tell us to not address things or be passive aggressive, or to just let all grievances slide. He gives us a clear and actually helpful way to handle disagreements. I think the realisation that there is a wise approach to solving differences given to us in scripture, which we could even apply to our non-Christian relationships to some extent, has been helpful and convicting to me. The wise way to deal with disagreements is not to gossip about the guilty party, where you throw yourself a pity party and make others join along, but to actually confront the situation with intention to reconcile and to help the brother see the error of their ways. This again requires us to deal with any malice that we may have when we go to confront others. It takes away our trump cards and victory dances, since the intent is to win them over and solve the problem rather than to be proven right or to win.
So now what must happen?
Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I can share how I have been trying to be less avoidant personally.
For starters, I have been praying about this.
I think recognising that this was an issue and therefore treating it like one, has been helpful to me. I have since committed it to prayer, and that’s been the biggest thing for me personally. Prayer has also been humbling in helping me realise my need for God in this area.
Secondly, when I recognise an issue I need to address with someone, I take a second to fully understand and articulate it to myself.
I realised that part of the issue for me was a difficulty/shyness/shame in sounding petty or not being able to fully articulate the issue and at times, at being that vulnerable. Now I am unlearning shame. I am learning that it’s okay and normal to have vulnerabilities, and actually good for intimacy in relationships! So I take some time to articulate to myself what the issue is for me in that situation. I wait until I am able to clearly articulate the issue to myself then I find the right platform and the appropriate manner to communicate the issue with the involved party. It’s been important for me to learn how to contextualise issues, so that I make sure that my intent lands with the person. This ensures that there isn’t misunderstanding about what I am trying to say (well, sometimes there is), so that we can try focus on the actual issue at hand.
I am learning how to keep a short account.
Part of what I recognise as an issue for me was that I would let issues keep happening and therefore start to analyse those trends, and view the other party as someone who always does that thing. Now I am learning how to not always be drawing trends (sometimes it’s necessary though), but to address issues as separate problems, and as they come. This way, I don’t hold grudges or label people unfairly.
Most importantly, I know I am not always going to get this right.
I fail A LOT. I am still avoidant at times – a lot. And I still sometimes chicken out and just rationalise why I won’t address the issues. So I am learning that there is grace, man. That I won’t always get it right, and that’s okay. What matters is that I am working on being better. That I am attempting to live coram Deo in the way I deal with conflict.