How to Stop Being Afraid of Conflict and Disagreements

3 out of 4 sets of my great grandparents came over from Italy. The Italian food has been the main surviving tradition. All the women in my family can make the best tomato sauce you’ve ever tasted in your life – from scratch! But there’s another other ethnic “stereotype,” if you will, that has actually helped shape me into who I am today.

My loud, expressive family members are great. They’re the main reason I’m not an awkwardly shy human today. (They’re also the reason I talk with my hands all the time!) If you spend a little time with my family, you’ll realize – sometimes you have to try really hard to get a word in. They love a lively conversation and are more than happy to share their opinions on most any subject. Their convictions and ideas run deep. There’s no fear and I’ve always admired them for that.

Then there’s me.

I was born more introverted, a little quieter, and while I wouldn’t call myself shy anymore, I definitely was as a kid. Growing up in this family meant that I had to learn how to speak up when I absolutely needed to. It made me stronger.

But those opinions. Opinions are freaking everywhere.

Not just in my family, but they’ve followed me through all of life. Everyone has an opinion these days about everything from politics to theology to pop culture and back again.

To be honest, for better or for worse, I learned to just stay away from them. I don’t need to weigh in on every current event, pop culture antic, or water cooler conversation. I’ll be over here eating my favorite ice cream, finally cleaning out my car, and enjoying the sunshine. Let me like what I like and be happy, ok?

At least, that’s become my default mentality.

While I’m totally capable of developing and sharing a strong opinion, that doesn’t mean I want to share it. Or do the work to get to that educated opinion in the first place.

You see, that’s the thing. If I actually have an opinion on something, there’s a high chance I’ve thought this through for a long time. It means I care a lot about it and I’ve done a lot of research.

So, what happens when I finally have a true opinion about something important to me and I found out it’s a lot different from most of my friends’ opinions? You better believe I’m squirming.

Voicing my opinion used to fill me with anxiety. Here's what I'm doing about it! Click To Tweet

By voicing my differing opinion, I’m afraid it will be the equivalent of me saying, “Um, you’re wrong.” I’m afraid the other person will feel judged. I’m afraid it will change our friendship. And deep down, I’m afraid he/she won’t understand where I’m coming from and they’ll just judge me, or worse – write me off as an annoyance.

There are so many passion-inciting topics that my fellow women alone can disagree on. I’m going to name a few just so you get an idea: feminism, motherhood, dating, marriage, sex, birth control, male headship, abortion, faith, church.

Is your heart beat picking up right now? Because mine is.

When it comes to my friends and family whom I love dearly, whom I want to encourage and keep in my life, whom I want to be able to talk openly to – ugh, that’s the worst.

If anything can divide a group of women it’s differing opinions on their fertility, faith, and role as a woman. If we disagree, where would I even begin? What if I don’t explain myself well enough? What if this is the end?

That’s why I’m talking about this. This is a place within myself where I can majorly feel like the only one. But I believe we all need to step out of our isolation and talk about it!

I’ve been working through this in my head and heart for a while now and while I’m still far from perfect at handling conflict, I’ve been learning a lot. Plus, my co-worker Candice has a totally different perspective on conflict and disagreements between friends that I’ve found really helpful. I think you will, too!

So, let’s get to the bottom of what’s happening (and what needs to be happening) when we disagree. Here are 6 truths to remember the next time you’re confronted with tension or conflict in your relationships.

1. Seek to understand first.

My friend Candice found this quote: “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” How many times do I go into a conversation feeling anxious and wracking my brain about what I’m going to say and how I can defend what I believe? If we can switch this off and focus on understanding the other person’s experience we will find a whole new perspective. Truly listening is going to give you more empathy, a wider understanding of the issue, and a better conversation with your friend. It takes humility for sure, but it’s worth the effort.

Seek to understand before you seek to be understood. Click To Tweet

2. Your mind doesn’t have to change.

When it comes to my core beliefs about my faith, I’m not going to be swayed – and that’s a good thing! Listening and understanding doesn’t mean you’re expecting to change your mind. It means you’re trying to understand and strengthen a relationship. Honestly, sometimes when you hear another side of an issue, your beliefs might be strengthened! Having these conversations is what makes growth happen either way!

3. Don’t be afraid to do the work.

I think the main reason I’ve been so averse to conflict lately is that I don’t want to do the emotional work. Wading through all the thoughts and opinions, being vulnerable enough to ask the hard questions, taking enough time and energy to do my research – that can sound exhausting and uncomfortable! But we weren’t meant to live in laziness or fear. Sometimes it’s necessary to do the work. I know from personal experience, when I make the effort to dig in, that’s when I see the coolest relationships form. That’s also when I see the most growth and strength develop within myself.

4. You don’t have to have an answer.

This is so freeing! Part of the anxiety that tends to cripple me is feeling like I have to have the right answer. I have to have an opinion on every important or hot-button issue and I don’t want to be caught of guard, right?. Wrong. In fact, realizing that it may take time to fully learn and develop an opinion on something, let alone find an answer, is healthy. It’s ok to just be learning. It’s ok to not know everything every time. Breathe easy.

5. You never know what God is going to do in the other person.

There have been a few times now where I’ve been secretly frustrated with a friend for their opinions and choices that I truly believed were not good ones. Then to my surprise – and to God’s credit – we come back to this topic several months or even a couple of years down the road only to find their hearts and minds have grown and changed over time. God has been working on them. And not only has he been changing them for the better, but he’s been changing me into a more gracious and understanding person. Not to mention that there’s probably something in my life that a couple of years down the road will be completely different, too! When we let God work, beautiful things happen.

6. Pursue God’s thoughts on each topic first… and continually.

If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this. James 1:2 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Meanwhile, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, God tells us to “pray without ceasing.” Don’t think there’s any problem, issue, or disagreement you can’t bring to God. He wants us to seek wisdom from Him and says He will give it generously if we would just ask! Not to mention, He commands us – for our own good and well-being – to keep on praying. Talking to God should be a normal part of our lives that sheds so much grace, peace, and truth into our everyday. So ask! Pray! You have the all-knowing, continuously loving God of the universe on your side.

I’m still working on this. Join me in stopping fear and anxiety from holding us back from better relationships and personal growth?

How to Be Like Jesus in Times of Conflict
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