The Opportunity of Conflict


Pic courtesy of Clarkmans and

Recently I had conflict with two individuals, one a close friend and the other a colleague. In the first case, I could have avoided the situation all together by not telling my friend about something that had bothered me. In the second case, conflict broke out unexpectedly. I could have later avoided further conflict by not showing up or if my colleague had chosen not to show up for a second interaction. These were both great growth opportunities for me.

Have you ever had conflict? Perhaps someone in your family or at work did something and you cannot stop thinking about it. Everytime you run into them, your stomach turns. You hate conflict (don’t we all), but you just cannot get past what they did. You have trouble being in the same room with them, much less talking to them. The feeling that comes into your body when there is conflict is overwhelming.

When such a situation arises in your office or in your living room, you really have two options:

  1. Forgive and don’t say anything to anyone. No, I do not believe that every issue needs to be addressed. In some cases, you (or I) just need to get over ourselves. You may not like the way a coworker organizes his desk, dresses herself, or how he responded in a particular situation, but not everything is going to warrant a discussion. You may just have to deal with it. The key here, though, if you choose not to address an issue, is then you trully need to forgive them. You cannot talk about them behind their back. That only hurts you, them and those around you. It creates an unhealthy environment.
  2. Address the issue. If you cannot move on from what he did or how she conducts herself, then you need to talk to them. If you find yourself continuing to bring up a particular situation with a coworker or family member everytime that other person’s name comes up in conversation, chances are you have not forgiven them and you need to do something about it. Do them and yourself a favor and go talk to them asap.

I hate conflict. By nature, I want to avoid it and I usually do. I have come to learn that avoiding conflict is unhealthy though. In fact my closest friends are people with whom I have had conflict.

Is that true of you too? Chances are, if you have not had conflict with a person, you are not close to them. Conflict is like bringing two magnets together. If the wrong ends are facing each other, they will launch apart. However, there is also the opportunity for conflict to bring two people closer, much closer.

Here are six reasons you should not avoid conflict:

  1. Conflict allows you to get to know one another. Someone once told me, “If you really want to know someone, get in a fight with them.” It is true.
  2. Respectfully engaging in conflict can communicate your care for a person. How you fight matters. This is always true, but especially in marriage.
  3. Conflict clears up misunderstandings. Often you are not aware of the other person’s side. Talking with them can clear up misunderstandings, miscommunication and mistakes.
  4. Conflict puts you both on the same page. Whether it be how to load the dishwasher at your husbands parent’s house, email etiquite with your nonprofit volunteers, or teaching customers how to appropriately communicate dissatisfaction, choosing to not back down from conflict will allow everyone to be clear about how things are going to work going forward. This will help avoid future problems.
  5. That you fight matters. Often, if the relationship is not important, we avoid conflict. Not only does it matter how you engage in conflict, but choosing to do it communicates that this relationship is worth fighting for. Avoiding conflict communicates that a relationship is not important to you.
  6. Conflict creates a sense of team. Sure, some conflict results in the end (or the beginning of the end) of a relationship. The opposite is true too. Conflict can unite people like no other activity. Have you ever made it through the other side of a conflict with someone and realized, “Wow, this person is on my team!” If you have not, you are missing out.

For some people, conflict is a sport. They play it early and often. If that is you, this post is not for you. Others avoid conflict at all cost and miss the opportunity for relationship, community, and team growth that come when we do the hard work of conflict. Is that you? This post is for you. May you have the courage to engage in healthy conflict. It is worth the fight.

How have you seen healthy conflict positively impact your personal or professional life?

Add yours ↓
  1. Amanda

    Thank you, Adam! This is a really useful and important topic to discuss.

    November 3, 2013
  2. adamsuter

    Thanks Amanda. Yeah, it can be tough, but a lot of good can happen when we don’t run from conflict.

    November 4, 2013