How do you handle conflict?

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Conflict. It’s all around us. It seems every day there is something that gets under our skin, and we have to make a choice with how to handle it. Our lives are made up of experiences and frustrations resulted by how we live, and also by the decisions other people make and how we will act towards them.

I’m very open and candid.  If you’ve been around my blog long enough, you know that I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind, to share my inner thoughts, to share my sadness because I know that I’m not alone. I know that there are others out there that have experienced similar things. I feel that the more we are open and share our life experiences with each other, the more we are blessed by others. I’m an open book.

In real life, I’ve always “said it like it is” with whatever is on my mind…often to my detriment. I don’t feel my blurting out is intentional unkindness, but people can be taken aback by my straightforwardness. I’m not afraid to ask in a conversation with someone I just met to tell me about their relationship with their parents–just 5 minutes into the conversation. I’m a curious person. The human story is most interesting to me. Relationships between people are something I’m always studying and trying to “figure out.” My degree is Human Development with a mixture of Sociology. The daily study of how we behave in social environments is most fascinating to me.

My friend Linda used to tell me that she loved that I wore my heart on my sleeve. For better or worse, I’m a horrible actress. If I’m mad, I can’t hide it. If I’m sad, I cry. If I’m happy, I can’t stop smiling. I sing out loud, I dance about…not really caring who can see me. She would remind me how much she loved that quality about me, as I’d complain to her after telling her I said something to someone that un intentionally hurt their feelings.  I wasn’t aiming to be hurtful, simply bringing up a thought I had that I thought would be helpful…constructive.  Of course I’m not walking up to random people telling them they need to address “this or that” but when in conversation with someone, if a topic comes up, I’ll contribute my thoughts. Or if it’s someone I’m close to, and something not so great has happened a number of times, I’ll bring it up, thinking it would help address a conflict. I used to see value in what I considered constructive criticism.   For myself, I feel I’m open to that as well. I want to know if I’m doing something that is affecting others, I appreciate straight forward ness. It’s all in how it’s done though, isn’t it?

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I will say that I’ve been burned enough times in the past with this open honesty that I’ve tried to hone my acting skills, and to keep more in. But I’m still HORRIBLE!  I’m not so great at the delivery when I’m frustrated, it’s a skill in patience. But I hate conflict. I hate that feeling that fills my inside with uneasiness. My husband and I are pretty good these days at nipping conflict in the bud. I don’t like the feeling inside when I feel something needs to be addressed and it hasn’t yet. 

People generally don’t want to hear how they may be negatively affecting you with their actions. I do.

At what point do you bring it up—or just let it go?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I see it all comes down to four traits when faced with conflict.  Maybe we hop between each of them at varying stages of the conflict, depending on the subject. As humans, our behavior is such:

A. Altruistic

B. Actor

C. Proactive

D. Passive Agressive

My husband is a much better actor than me. Honestly, he’s more altruistic than me, too. He’s sweet, calm mannered, go with the flow (unless someone goes before their turn at a 4 way stop). We make a great pair, balance each other out. I’m a spitfire. I’m passionate about everything in life from the song I love on the radio to the person whose actions are grating at me.  Even when he is frustrated, he hides it well.

I think when it is blatant and intentional on the part of another, it needs to be proactively handled head on. And when it is something that does’t affect me personally, I try to mind my own business. But there are so many gray areas. Something may be indirect on their part, but I receive it directly. So many times when I’m just not sure if it should be addressed or not, by bringing it to the persons attention. 

I’ve gotten in trouble in years past, and so I’ve been working on not being so open with my frustrations. I pray a LOT for my heart to be softened, to zip my lips, and just let things go.

Ideally, that means I take the altruistic perspective. I pray that my heart is truly one filled with love,  that despite the actions of another affecting me, I can show kindness. But lets be real…that is HAAAAARD when the same thing keeps happening over and over! We are all striving towards perfection, and some are better than others at masking their frustrations. Some just roll with the punches better and don’t get as frustrated.

If I can’t be altruistic, then at least I can work on those acting skills. Put a smile on my face, and go about the interactions as if nothing is bothering me. The “fake it til you make it” idea that eventually turns into altruism. I wish I was better at this. Maybe I should look into some acting classes….

So then we have the proactive route (taking aggressive action), which doesn’t have to be mean (as the word aggressive sounds) but straightforward, take the bull by the horns, attack the conflict head on with a conversation that will hopefully result in understanding between both parties. That’s what I’ve done in the past. For some people it works, some it doesn’t. It’s hard to know who it will work with until you try. But having been burned by that route in the past, I aim to zip my lips.  I feel like I’ve even had a calm, even toned delivery, that falls on deaf ears.

Which leads me to the last trait, the passive aggressive mannerism. This phrase is not generally met with positive vibes. You can see there is aggression there, or at least annoyance of some sort, but the person is a horrible actor and clearly not hiding a lot of their frustrations. It’s evident that something is going on in their actions, but they aren’t speaking up as to what is bothering them.

I think the dictionary definition says it best:

  1. of or denoting a type of behavior or personality characterized by indirect resistance to the demands of others and an avoidance of direct confrontation, as in procrastinating, pouting, or misplacing important materials. {emphasis added}

I think as I’ve tried to steer clear of the aggressive, my passive-agressive has set in. I thought it was better than the aggressive. I thought it was better to keep my lips zipped. I thought I was doing a favor by not unleashing my frustration, and just bottling it up. I was trying out my acting chops, hoping it would lead to the ultimate altruism on my part.

But we all know that pent up aggression isn’t good, either. It can eventually lead to explosions.

humans are conflicted beings, join the discussion by clicking on this image about how you deal with conflict.

I’ve always felt that if someone else could understand my perspective, where I was coming from, that they’d know I come from a place of love.  But we’re all human, we all get affected by the actions of others. I want to be HEARD, but my husband says people don’t want to hear. They can’t hear, even if you are spelling it out for them. They can only see how I wronged them with my imperfect actions, not that they’ve done something to fuel them.

I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago that I typed out a 4 page letter with every thought and angle around a particular conflict. I wanted to be understood, to share WHY I’d behaved in a passive aggressive way, to say that I thought I was doing a favor by not aggressively sharing my thoughts, to list all the ways that I was frustrated. I honestly thought it would be helpful to share my perspective. But a friend helped me see that even though I thought I explained myself well, there is no way that the receiver would not take it in a hostile way. Do I want to have a relationship in the future or not? Do I want to burn bridges, or attempt to mend them? It was so very difficult, because I wanted my perspective heard, but ultimately I decided to not deliver the letter. Though I want to be understood, taking the high road will bring me more lasting peace than the immediate gratification of being understood.

So what is right? Forgive and forget, but it isn’t always that simple. I’ve had instances in the past where hearts have been healed and relationships grow stronger. It can happen with a close friend, or someone I barely know. But both hearts have to be willing.

Though I’m striving for altruism in my dealings with conflict, one that is full of love and accepting of others imperfections, I’m a horrible actress, and I don’t want to be the aggressor. And I’ve learned recently that passive aggression hasn’t worked out either, what’s another option?

Excellence is a habit

I truly believe in forgiveness and the ability for my heart to be softened, and ask for continued guidance in how to ACT in the trenches of a conflict. I plead with my Father in Heaven to help me show kindness, and it comes….my heart softens….then the same conflict sets in again.  I’m imperfect, I’m not there yet.   I’ll continue in prayer, and daily self analysis, but I’d love to hear thoughts, stories, what you’ve tried, what hasn’t worked, and any suggestions of traits that I can add to my list of four for how to effectively ACT.

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