I hate conflict. As a peacemaker by nature, I just want everyone to be happy. Even it if means choking down my own opinions and convictions, a lot of times I’d rather just act as if everything is fine rather than have an argument with someone.
A Recent Confrontation
There’s nothing like a road trip to force a confrontation. Recently a friend and I spent 10 hours in the car together on our way to a conference. We’d had a disagreement over some work-related matters a couple of weeks prior, but I thought we were over it. (Mistake #1: Never think you can resolve an intense conflict over e-mail!)
In due time, the raw wound became irritated again, but this time we were face-to-face with nothing to distract us. We had to confront it. We argued/discussed for close to an hour. By the end my armpits were sweaty, my mouth was dry, and I was emotionally exhausted, but we had worked it out.
As I reflect on that experience and my infamous pattern of conflict-avoiding (just ask my wife!), I’ve learned several reasons why I should confront people even though I hate confrontation.
1. Fleeing Only Makes it Worse
There’s a point in every difficult situation when you realize you’re offended. In that moment the primal part of our brain is presented with two options, “fight” or “flight”. In that millisecond we can choose to either confront the person or run away. Guess which one I choose most often?
I’ve become skilled at tamping down my reflex emotions long enough to escape a tense situation. Removed from the immediate circumstances I begin to reflect on what I ought to do about it. I wish I could say I soberly and calmly re-engage the person, but most of the time I chicken-out and hope the other person wasn’t as worked up as I was.
It’s better to confront a person right away. Talk to him or her as soon as possible after the event occurs. While it’s sometimes wise to take a break if emotions are running high, for most everyday confrontations emotions flare up and die down pretty quickly. Push through that initial “flight” reflex and stay to “fight”. It’s better to have the conflict immediately than to wait and never have it at all.
2. Bad News Doesn’t Get Better with Time.
I heard this phrase from one of my former bosses. I’m pretty sure he got it from someone else, too. But it’s true. Bad news does not get better with time. Bad news on Tuesday is still bad news on Thursday or whenever you get to it. While we must be careful about our timing–it’s not very considerate to confront someone when they’re already stressed about another situation–waiting to talk to that person as if the discussion will be less stressful at a later point is a myth.
Hard conversations are hard. Waiting to have them won’t make them any easier.
3. Perfect Wording can Be a Cover for Procrastination.
A lot of times I’ll avoid a conflict by saying to myself, “I want to wait until I get the right wording.” I’ll convince myself I’m not maneuvering away from distasteful circumstances because I’m just trying to be as sensitive as possible. After all, it’s a delicate situation and the wrong phrase could detonate the whole affair. In most cases, I’m just using the search for perfect wording as a cover for procrastination.
While we can be commended for choosing our words carefully and for maximum effect, we cannot use this as an excuse to circumvent an unsavory situation. At some point, usually far sooner than we think, we have to trust that the other person will give us grace to cover our misspoken words and that timeliness may be more important than perfection.
4. It’s Worth Risking a Relationship for the Sake of Truth
When I’m not fleeing a fight or convincing myself it will be easier later, then I’m usually contemplating the demise of the relationship. To avoid a confrontation I tell myself, “This person won’t be my friend anymore if I confront them about this.” The reality, of course, is that a relationship is worth risking for the sake of truth.
Not all truth is important enough to confront someone about. The Bible says to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Sometimes, for the sake of the relationship, it’s better to pick your battles. But many times, especially if it’s something that keeps bothering you, the conversation is worth having. Although it may test your friendship, true friends do not abandon one another at the first hint of disagreement.
5. Remember the Benefits of Confrontation
Sometimes it’s helpful to remember that confrontation has positive effects. First, confronting a person releases you from the burden of the situation. Tense circumstances tend to loom over us and cast a shadow on the rest of our lives. Getting it over with frees you from the specter of the confrontation.
Second, healthy conflict builds a culture of honesty in a relationship. The more two people carefully confront one another, the more trust develops. You can each count on the other to speak the truth and you gain confidence to express your honest feelings.
Third, confrontations usually have the counter-intuitive effect of deepening a relationship. As a result of more honesty we can experience more intimacy. We trust the people with whom we’ve had disagreements and maintained a healthy communion. Those people often become our closest friends not in spite of the conflicts, but because of them.
All confrontations should be characterized by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Each of the above statements must be viewed through the lens of the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). As you do this, remember that confrontations can be good and our many excuses to avoid them may be robbing us of the relationships we want.