I’ve never been a fan of conflict. While I’m not necessarily one to shy away from it, I don’t seek it out or look for it either. It’s a necessary part of life as we deal with people, but not a necessary part of life that I relish or look forward to experiencing. Necessary and unavoidable, yet my own experience is that we steer away from it as often as we can. When given the opportunity to face conflict or turn tail and run, I’ve seen people (including myself) turn tail and run more often than not.
In our increasingly growing PC world, we are always fearful of offending. God forbid we actually speak truth to someone who needs to hear it and they are hurt by our words but they also take those words to heart and consider what they mean. In our efforts to avoid offense we can actually be doing more damage than good by avoiding truth and encouraging or enabling bad or unhealthy behavior.
When conflict arises, tension will generally arise and join it. The longer conflict goes unresolved, the greater the tension that will build up. While we may think that the avoidance of conflict will reduce tensions, it will usually go the opposite direction and increase the tension. It’s like shaking up the soda bottle, you’re only increasing pressure within and unless you release that pressure, it will build up to explosion. Releasing the pressure gradually is a much more palatable solution.
I always used to wonder about tension and whether or not it had any benefits. In a staff discussion a few years back, we parked on the issue of tension and a thought came to me that has stuck with me ever since. When we are trying to build our muscles and grow, we need to put the muscles into tension in order for them to be stretched, even to the point of breaking. Once stretched and broken in tension, the muscles repair themselves stronger than they were before. Without that tension, not only will growth not occur, but atrophy may take place. So, we need tension to grow. If we avoid tension, we avoid growth.
But conflict and growth are uncomfortable, we don’t really like to deal with them. If we can avoid them, we will, even if it means we avoid growth. We’d much rather stay comfortable, safe, and pain-free, not to mention the mess that is caused when we acknowledge conflict and tension and actually step into it to deal with it.
I don’t know a quick fix for dealing with conflict. I know how conflict has been resolved when I’ve stepped into it, so my experience has helped me understand the benefits of engaging it. Still, avoidance seems much more desirable to me than facing it head on. There are no formulas, there are no guarantees, there are no promises of calm waters. More often than not, you’ll have to go through the storm to come out on the other side. During storms, there may be casualties, but if everyone works together, those casualties can be avoided.