In kindergarten, I was given my own desk in a corner of the classroom that was far off from everyone else. The teacher gave me my seating assignment as encouragement to better keep my words to myself.
Needless to say, this derision only added shame to my social-emotional radar, and it did little to stop my destiny as a social butterfly. Later in life, my Myers-Briggs results revealed that I possessed the highest possible degree of extroversion, which was also reflected by my vast web of friendships. My natural inclination to connect with others gave me the ability to make friends easily and in large quantities. Unfortunately, my extroversion did little to help me manage conflict with friends.
To be honest, I’ve not been the best at conflict management throughout my life. I’ve allowed conflict to invade my field of vision and become larger than my friendships. I’ve lost friends over conflict. I stayed silent until it was too late—until words could no longer repair the damage that was done.
However, I’ve learned, and what it comes down to is the commitment to speaking truth in love and knowing that it harms everyone when the truth is withheld. By “truth,” I mean that deep cry for authenticity that we all carry inside ourselves—promoted by feedback, minimized by fear and brought to life through genuine conversation and connection.
It harms everyone when the truth is withheld.
Here are ways I have learned to uphold truth in my friendships in times of conflict:
Bring it back to common ground: a sense of worthiness.
Choose friendships that intentionally polish and refine your identity into the brightest gem. Speak honestly about the things you observe that don’t serve them and let them do the same for you. Draw a line at codependence, and take note if your autonomy is being devalued.
Talk about it, whatever it is.
Do your best to live peaceably with everyone. When shame hands you a lockbox for your lips, I hope you find yourself in friendships that hand you a key, a warm drink and a listening ear to hear what’s on your heart. They do not listen to fix, alter or correct but simply just to listen. I hope you find yourself playing the role of a listening confidant for your friends as well.
Be a safe space.
Is the information you have truly yours to share? Or is it yours to keep? We tend to see information as currency for connection nowadays, but true friendships are built on trust and safety. If you find yourself being told something that isn’t yours to hear, then let the speaker know. Change the subject.
True friendships are built on trust.
Keep in mind that gossip is any talk about others—not just negative talk, untrue talk or rumors. Be the kind of friend who offers a sounding board and has a mind like a steel trap, quick and ready to offer wisdom and feedback.
Learn to practice forgiveness.
Apologize. Be willing to go first. Getting used to saying, “I’m sorry,” is one of the best things we could ever do for our friendships. No amount of pride could ever stand in the way of a heartfelt apology. Humility levels the playing field, allows for clear communication and highlights the heart of the friendship.
Humility levels the playing field, allows for clear communication and highlights the heart of the friendship.
Conflict will arise. It is inevitable. In moments of frustration and tension, I imagine myself as a conduit of grace with outstretched arms encompassing whatever I can carry. It is an honor to be a refuge where other humans can come in their darkest moments, whether their conflict is with me or with someone else.
Recently, I bowed out of a friend group because of a conflict between me and another person. I gave her space, and I gave myself time to decide what my role would look like in her life, if anything. I’m now in a place of easing myself back into this group of friends and have come to find out that time and space have been good for both of us. Now, our boundaries look different than they did before and we’ve found safe spaces of communion outside of each other.
Of course, the process has been painful. Of course, I miss the way these friendships used to be. Yet, I value the truth too much to avoid the pain, and that is ultimately what it comes down to. I value authenticity too much to compromise and try to force a friendship. It is here that freedom is found in friendships—when we commit to each other’s growth, we grow through conflict together and come out on the other side in the most authentic and honest way.