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How do you handle conflict?

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?

difference in opinion, join the discussion by clicking on this image about how you deal with conflict

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.

How do you handle conflict, join the discussion by clicking on this image

Kristen Duke

Kristen Duke

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Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
Kristen Duke
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Comments

  1. I’ve dealt with conflict at Church recently when a sister embarrassed me in RS. She has fallen out with everyone at some stage, I was anger with her for a couple of months and then decided to love her instead. I hug her now when I see her and I talk to her when I would rather ignore her. But I have felt better. I know I have taken the better road and I know that Heavenly Father is happy with my decision. If I have conflict with someone that I don’t need to interact with then i will remove them from my life. Sometimes it is best to walk away.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      I’ve had an awkward-ness with someone at church, too. It was YEARS ago, and I brought her treats, flowers, you name it, and she still chooses to ignore me. It was so hard for me to let it go for so long b/c I felt like I did my part, but over time, I was able to just relax knowing I did my best. Good for you for offering love. In most cases, it really does help.

  2. This really is a loaded topic, isn’t it? I remember a communications class I once took, and the only thing that stuck (it’s been almost 15 years) was that communication is not what you say, it’s what the other person understands. The challenge is to learn to communicate in a way that people understand what we mean. Quite a challenge :)

    I’m a swallow it and move on kind of person. Unfortunately I swallow some things that bother me and keep me away from some people for good, but I’m not a heads on conflict person. Many times I think I have the answer, but I still don’t meddle. I actually give very little unrequested advice, and even when requested my usual answer is that I hate giving advice, and the person would be better off talking to my husband, which is an amazing listener and advice giver. :) And the reason I hate giving advice (and why I don’t give it out without being asked) is because if someone asks me for advice I would prefer that they do what I told them to do. I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s how I feel… and usually people don’t act on advice given (from me or anyone, I guess it’s human nature), we listen and do whatever we want. I’m pretty sure I’m getting off topic here, so I’ll move on. :)

    Your post reminded me of the message we watched yesterday (besides our local church we listen to Andy a lot) talking about wisdom, and how according to Solomon there are different ways to react to wisdom, and make life choices. It’s not about conflict per se, but reading your post I was reminded of several snippets from the message. It’s worth listening to. Here’s the link: http://northpoint.org/messages/ask-it/musical-chairs/

    Have a great week!!
    Aline recently posted..Ouch! {mom tales}My Profile

    • I’m with you… If.I’ve taken the time to give you advice, especially when you ask for it… Or some folks who repeatedly find themselves in the same catastrophe and I can see from the outside where they are repeatedly making the same judgement errors, I will tell them. I try to cushion it in my personal experiences and “I did this once and this happened so I did this and then this better thing happened…”

      And when they don’t listen it really irritates me… Especially when I know I’m right and what is being done is so blatantly unethical… Like a.friend always complaining how nothing was ever “for her” in life. She had very little and what he had, she wad losing.

      She had movd and had put a lot of items in storage. Including her iron. She had an interview one day and instead of getting her iron and curlers and hair dryer out of storage, she went and bought new ones at Wal-Mart. After her.interview on her way home. She packed them all back up and returned them.

      Used.

      It really bothered me. I didn’t say anything directly about her actions. But I did make a comment about living with integrity and when we choose to do the right/best thing and not take advantage of others or harm others with our actions intentionally then I believe God will honor that. But when I was living without regard for whom I might tske advantage of or respect for others, then God could not honor that and provide for me according to HIS plans, riches, and desires for my life.

      I meant to be encouraging her to choose better by using my own life as an example. And I had recently seen God move huge miraculous financial.mountains in my favor. And I believe with everything it’s because He spoke to me.about living with integrity and I did my best. Not perfect. But my best… And with intention to have integrity in my actions and dealings with others. Even if it was uncomfortable or meant that we did without as a family.

      It actually cost me several friends… They couldn’t believe that I couldn’t just let her “be” where she was… Always asking me to pray for her financial well being without being personally responsible to the God from who she was asking provisions. :(

      I was told I was judging. And maybe I was… But… She was friend. When our kids are little and they do something wrong, we don’t sit quietly while they figure it out. We guide them, with words, lessons, and sometimes even verbal discipline. We do this because we love them. So I didn’t understand how it was best for me to let my friend wallow in her actions waiting for a change that based onnmy own personal life experiences wasn’t going to come until she did change. And how would she know what change to make if no one told her. That would be like sitting a 5 year old in a calculus class, telling them to just keep trying until they get it and not teaching them how to add first. :(

      It made me sad that it wasn’t received the way I offered it. But oh well.

      Now I just keep my mouth shut.

      • Kristen Duke says:

        That is so hard that you experienced that with your friend, and that others judged you for what you thought was right. I can really relate, one persons level of integrity is different than anothers. Sometimes we have to do hard things to encourage people we love to learn some life lessons without our enabling them, to figure things out on their own. What we view as judgement errors on the part of another, isn’t met with happiness when we relay to them our personal thoughts on how they live. It’s really really hard.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Oh yes, it’s a fully loaded topic! Always great to hear from you all the way in Brazil, Aline;) Loved my communications class! True, but do we always want someone to have communicated negative vibes from our body language? I can be silent, but my actions can’t be hidden very well sometimes. Ha! That’s funny what you said about giving advice….people need help thinking things through. Seeking for wisdom in all things, thanks for the link!

  3. I tend to keep my mouth shut and either do one of two things- take the high road and act like everything is fine (because I’m worried about a potential blow up if I tell them how I feel) or if its someone whom I really don’t want to have a relationship with anymore then I end up avoiding them (without explanation to them). I have found that people don’t really want to hear your opinions, advice or how their actions make you feel.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      So when you act like everything is fine, do you feel you act it well? That’s where I struggle! I want to ACT like everything is fine, but when I’m burning up inside, my actions aren’t very hidden! That’s what I’ve been trying to do…brush it off, but my emotions get the best of me.

      • I *think* I act well :-) For instance, a couple years ago, my brother (I have 3 and I’d always been particularly close to this one) accused me of saying awful things to him and his wife at our family Christmas. I was stunned and beyond hurt and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I was unaware of having said anything remotely offensive (I’m just not that kind of person!) and I even asked other family members who were there if I had unintentionally said something offensive. No one could figure out what I could have said and what would have precipitated my brother accusing me of this. It absolutely broke my heart. I took the high road, apologized for anything that might have offended them. The next family gathering was 3 months later for my Grandma’s birthday. There were tons of people there, but I made it a point to initiate conversation with them, even if it was surface “Hi! Did you have a nice trip down here?” type stuff. I know our relationship will never be the same, but over time my acting has turned into actual forgiveness and love that I know only our heavenly Father could provide. Its difficult and there have been times where I have avoided the person for a short time to let things simmer down or give me a break- which often offers a new perspective on the situation. If the conflict is so hot that I don’t feel like I can respond in a Christian manner (whether I want to or not!) then that’s when I’ll “walk” away for a time. Sometimes its a few days, sometimes weeks and sometimes months. If you want a real challenge, read the book of James, chapter 3- its all about taming the tongue ;-) I tell you what, that is convicting!

  4. I was struggling with this notion of conflict a few years into my marriage. It’s not that my husband and I were fighting a lot, or hardly at all, but I was nervous that “contention is of the devil” so any arguing in my marriage must lead to unhappiness. I attended a fireside that was an answer to prayer. The speaker was a former marriage/family therapist and said “contention is of the devil, but conflict is inevitable.” He talked about the distinction between the two being that contention involves pride and a need to be right. Conflict is a difference of opinion that we’re all bound to have. Since then I’ve looked at conflict situations with the perspective of “am I just needing to be right or is there an important issue to discuss?” It really has helped get to the bottom of how I’m really feeling and helps me analyze the situation with a clear head before I act or say something destructive. I really appreciate this discussion and look forward to what others have to say on the topic.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Thanks for sharing that. The phrase “agree to disagree” seems to be fairly prevalent these days, and I really like it. It says, we view this instance very differently, you have your opinion and I have mine, we won’t change the others mind. Conflict IS inevitable, but it’s our choice to be contentious. I hate contention. I fear that trying to hide frustrations is still contentious, but not sure how to rectify this in myself. I think we all like to THINK that we are right, it is after all our own personal opinion, but we generally won’t be able to convince the other that what we feel is right, when it’s the polar opposite of what they say. I think in a marriage it’s very important to come to a peace with each other. To realize we don’t always have to be right, but it gets tricky when we deal with others that aren’t a constant in our lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!

      • I love what you said, “Hiding frustration is contentious as well.” I find that so true. I have been hiding some of my frustrations from certain people in my life (not my husband or children), but it has caused some contention within me. It’s so hard because in this case, i’m trying to avoid conflict because I know if I am honest, feelings will be hurt and I seem to always put that before being open. I have decided though that I will be honest with my feelings on the subject (sorry to sound so vague). My husband pointed out though that in my conversation, it is ok to be honest, but avoid judging the other party when expressing myself.

  5. I had to laugh a little when I saw the title of your post because I had to deal with conflict over the weekend. Conflict is hard. I’m the type that doesn’t let too much bother me. Dealing with conflict however, is not black or white either. It all depends on the situation and the person. Sometimes you have those people who just don’t “get it”. Trying to make your point with these people will be like beating a dead horse. These people I usually just smile, make peace and love them. When the conflict is with someone who is level headed, an open honest, yet tactful discussion usually does the job. Even when the two of us may not agree, we at least can see where the other person is coming from. Sometimes, when I find I have a hard time with a person, I honestly try to go the extra mile in loving that person: making a nice comment on their FB post, sincerely complimenting them on how they look or their accomplishment. It is hard for me to do, but when I do do it, I feel better. My relationship with the person is better. The key really to dealing with conflict is humility. You have to have it, or you will walk away hurt, disappointed or unable to find peace in the resolution.

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Malie, we are kindred spirit! Everything you wrote, I found myself saying, “YES!” I have always loved the phrase, “kill ‘em with kindness” and I try because usually people who are doing things that may bother me…need extra love and I like to be the person to offer that. We are all born with different temperaments and personalities and toleration levels, each situation is very different. I used to pride myself that I handled conflict pretty well because I believe so much in loving others, despite our differences. I’ve just been humbled lately, in realizing I have a lot of room to grow.

  6. Ashley Calaway says:

    This is a hard one! Everyone is so different in their personalities. What works for some, doesn’t work for others. I get your dilemma. I think I tend to be more like your husband. I try to be altruistic and most times I can let things roll off my back. I think the best approach to conflict is to evaluate how important the issue is compared to how important the relationship is. Are you going to risk alienating someone because you want to resolve the issue? Another thing to consider is who you’re thinking of while you want to resolve this issue. By talking about or confronting that person, are you going to be benefiting you or the other person? If you find that this is just for your peace of mind, I would say try and let it go, as hard as that may be. I have had moments with a particular brother-in-law and his wife where I feel like maybe I have done something wrong because of the way they act toward me, so I have discussed it with my mother-in-law and she has relayed my concerns to that couple. They then think I am over-reacting and emotional and so I have found it is just best for me to keep my mouth shut, try to be as considerate as I can toward them and assume I’m doing alright. :) It really has been a struggle, because every time I am around them, I feel like I have to walk on egg shells, but it’s better than them thinking I am over-reacting and emotional. :) I think they just have personalities that can come off as being annoyed, even when they may not be. Or maybe they are also passive-aggressive. I don’t know! For me though, I would much rather have peace in my husbands family and my own family than to address what they might not consider an issue. But that is my personality! Like I said above, we all have such different personalities and ways we react to a situation! I hope you are able to find a solution that works for you and those you encounter! Conflict is a tricky thing!

  7. Jana Weaver says:

    I had someone really upset with me for a reason I have never learned the reason for, and they wouldn’t tell me either. Anyway, my wise mother gave me the advice to just apologize for hurting them through a short letter in the mail. I didn’t apologize for anything specific, just for hurting them. I felt bad that they were hurt, I wish I could’ve known the real reasonings, but beyond that, I wanted them to be happy. So, the next best thing I could do was just say sorry that they were hurt. Things aren’t perfect still, but so, so, so much better. They actually will talk to me and come to activities in which we are both invited. During this hard time for me, I kept having the impression to “kill them with kindness”.
    Best of luck to you.

  8. generally speaking, if I am having an issue with someone, I try to look past the actions to the intention. I believe that God looks at the heart more than the end result, and strive to do the same. It’s very rare to meet someone who purposes to harm or offend you. So when you look at what their aim or goal was, you see something that is altruistic. Even when we get angry and burst at someone, usually.our intention is still not to harm them. It’s to jar them out of complacency that we see harming them in some way. Or because we are in danger from built up irritations of abandoningnthe relationship and it’s ourast ditch effort to save it. Sometimes the anger is just because we don’t feel heard…

    We all seek validation of what we perceive.

    This seeking the motivation has helped my marriage, my relationship with my teenager. And it has also cost me relationships with family members… Becsuse when I look st the motives and repeatedly it is to harm me… Well. That gets old. I lived in that kind of abuse for a long time, and won’t any longer. I don’t have to.

    I used to be what my husband called a hound dog. Fighting for the little guy. The screamer and stomped and one who moved mountains. I blow and cool very quickly. I don’t tend to hold back, but also don’t hold grudges.

    But like.you, I’m passionate about everything. My husband is still waters. He can also be passive aggressive, but generally he’s cslm, cool and collected.

    I know for me, when I know he’s irritated or angry, I feel the passive aggressive is disingenuous. I’d rather he got angry and yelled. The snark is lying essentially. At least to my way of thinking. At least if he lost it and yelled it would be an honest response. Telling me everything is fine and then being rude or mean spirited doesn’t help us move past things.

    So we’re working on compromise. Me yelling less. Him yelling more.

  9. When you posed that question on fb, I so wanted to comment because I had just had a confrontational event, but my comment may have shown up in her feed, so I couldnt. It’s so hard to know when to confront someone or just let it slide. I decided not to let it slide because I was so mad, and I was annoyed about the situation so often, and any time I’d see her, I just thought about our issue. I thought that by confronting her, I’d get over it, but I don’t know if that worked. We have mutual friends, but we haven’t been at the same gathering yet, so I’m not sure how it has turned out as of now. I guess I’m glad that I confronted her because I feel like she needed to be called out, but after I did it, my husband and a friend both said they wouldn’t have done what I did, so I felt guilty and unsure about how I went about it. I still think I’d do it the same thing if I could redo it! Ugh drama!

  10. Tricia Dunlap says:

    What a great topic, K! I try to forgive always (hard to
    forget sometimes)! I’ve learned there are times that there is nothing you can do to resolve things, so you just have to try to “kill them with kindness” and move on – our life here on earth is too short!

  11. I hate conflict and avoid at all costs. If’ I offend someoe I apologize and move on. I’ve been in the very uncomfortable position of offending someone and then had them be passive aggressve about it. Even after I’d asked if I’d offended them. It was very bizarre to me and incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t much focus on trying to be ‘right’ because everybody’s truth is different.While it’s true that great friendships can rise out of resolving conflict it’s only true if both parties are willing to work at the resolution. If one party has moved on and the other is acting passive aggressive (or just plain old aggressive!) no movement will be made. I’m of the kill with kindness camp. Not passive agressive kindness (where I pat myself on the back for being so nice) but actual kindness. I don’t need everyone to like (or even understand) me.

    • Oh I also wanted to say that I really enjoy your site (and photos!). It’s refreshing how honest you are about your struggles and I really love how open you are about your faith <3