Being the Peacemaker in Relationships
By Sue Edwards & Kelly Matthews
In thirty years of counseling women, I (Sue) have observed that most women in ministry are people-pleasers. A few bulldoze their way through conflict, blind to the damage they leave in their wake. But others are more likely addicted to approval. Both are particularly vulnerable in conflict.
Grace and Angela
Grace owned a law practice that flourished despite her ongoing battle with several benign brain tumors, requiring surgeries. She hired Angela who after six years was slacking off on the job. Grace scheduled several meetings with Angela giving her the opportunity to improve, but Angela quit.
A year later, Grace opened an email from Angela that read: I guess we are not so different after all. I have just been to the doctor and I have a brain tumor. Please pray for me.
Grace wrote back. We will pray. What can I do? Angela responded and when she was wheeled into her hospital room from surgery, Grace was there. She helped her recover.
After Angela was released from the hospital, she showed up at Grace’s office. Within an hour, Angela prayed to accept Christ, hugged Grace, and asked for forgiveness. God used Grace’s love to woo Angela to Jesus.
Grace is neither a people-pleaser nor a bulldozer. She models the actions and attitudes that make peace far more likely—a goal for us all to emulate. Grace walks with Christ and Grace knows herself.
To be successful as a peacemaker, your top priority is to pursue emotional health. We all have problems and sin. We hurt because we were not loved perfectly by our parents, spouses, or friends. The question is what have we done with our lack? Have we used it to excuse immaturity? Or have we committed to the hard work of achieving emotional health? Only emotionally healthy women respond wisely when personally attacked or entangled in conflict.
In conflicts, our opponent can label us as too sensitive, bossy, or driven, or that the conflict was caused by something we did or failed to do. These accusations can cause us to question ourselves, even when we know our identity is based in Christ.
Stone, Patton, and Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project list three core identity issues that concern us when we find ourselves in the midst of conflict: Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love? If our identity is threatened, we will probably react poorly in the conflict.
They also suggest that we can fall prey to extreme “all-or-nothing” thinking; either we are completely competent or hopelessly incompetent, roughly good or horribly bad, and worth loving or worthless. An emotionally healthy woman grounds her identity in Jesus and works to understand when identity issues are making her overly sensitive.
In addition to a healthy self-image based in Christ, an emotionally healthy woman must guard against pride, a sin leading to qualities that render her vulnerable in conflict.
The Subtle Sin of Pride
How would you identify someone who is proud? Proud people boast and name drop. They feel superior. They think the whole world revolves around them. It is easy to recognize these people as proud.
But pride is also a subtle heart attitude that sneaks up and grabs us before we know it. This is the kind of pride Christian leaders battle. It takes various forms: insisting on our own way, believing we are indispensable to God’s work, and thinking different is wrong. Pride is thinking we alone know how to fix others. Proud people expect grace but seldom extend it. Pride is who we are when we don’t depend on God and most of us disguise it effectively.
Our first order of business if we want to serve Jesus well is to be ruthless in our pursuit of emotional health. Do whatever is necessary to be healthy from the inside out. Two unhealthy qualities that stem from pride can hinder a woman’s effectiveness in resolving conflict: people-pleasing and bulldozing.
People-pleasers are enslaved to flawed beliefs, feelings, and behaviors that make ineffective peacemakers. People-pleasers are approval addicts. They want everyone to be happy—peace at any price.
Is it wrong to want to please people? No, the Bible instructs us to care about the needs of others, to be considerate and kind. Societies function well when people are civil, honest, even heroic as they interact with others. But pleasing people has a negative side too. It’s easy to believe that our primary interest is glorifying God when really a higher goal is our own self-interest, being liked, and feeling good about ourselves.
Lou Priolo labels people-pleasing as idolatry, a two-sided coin: one side involves neglecting God and the other side involves replacing Him with a cheap substitute, in this case people. When we desire the accolades of people more than God or we fear the rejection of people more than the displeasure of God, then we are people-pleasers. Many Christian women unconsciously fall prey to people-pleasing, an insidious form of pride.
Characteristics and Cost
What traits typify people-pleasers?
If we are perfect and if our work is perfect, then everyone will love us and no one will criticize us, right? The problem is that we are finite humans in process. Until we accept that truth about ourselves and others, and give up perfectionism, we cannot thrive in ministry.
The cost of perfectionism is that we judge ourselves and everyone around us with an impossible standard that breeds discontent. Perfectionists resist delegating and waste time focusing on details, missing the main things—death to effective leadership.
Inability to say “no.”
Christian women are notorious for overcommitting and feeling like they never do enough. We are taught to serve, and serving is good unless we serve to be accepted and appreciated by people. If that is our motivation, we are easily manipulated, abused, and stressed.
My near burnout occurred slowly – like the frog in the pot. I’m told if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, he won’t jump out. If you gradually increase the heat, he adjusts – until you can boil him to death and he doesn’t even know. I accepted two “part-time” positions – one at seminary and one in the local church. At first, the load was doable. I loved my work, but over the years, as each ministry grew, the weight bore down. And when I added writing a book and earning another degree to the load, I almost went under. Stress creeps up until you find yourself backed into a corner of commitment. In that corner, you are especially vulnerable if conflict erupts. I learned the hard way to say “no.”
Stress is a dangerous ingredient in conflict and can hurt or kill us physically. Monitor your stress.
People-pleasers are dishonest, not morally, but socially. If you care too much about pleasing people, you won’t honestly tell them what you think. You can’t help people on self-destructive paths because you are too concerned that they might reject you. Honesty is a prerequisite quality for skilled peacemaking.
Defensiveness and oversensitivity.
My natural tendency is to be a people-pleaser, for years resulting in oversensitive defensiveness when I was criticized. Fortunately I married a man who loves me unconditionally. He helped me trust Jesus, accept myself, and leave people-pleasing behind. People-pleasers must control their thoughts and emotions, allowing for productive solutions. Oversensitive defensive women sabotage the peacemaking process before it begins. ●Easily manipulated and exploited. When strong women get wind that you are a people-pleaser, watch out. They seem to sense when you are vulnerable. Leaders look for ways to empower others, but they do so from a position of strength and not weakness. Adversarial women are like sharks. If they smell fear, they will bite. If they have an agenda, they will flatter you to see if they can manipulate you. If you are too eager to please for the wrong reasons, they will know and lose respect for you.
People-Pleasers and Conflict
Most people-pleasers will go to any length to avoid conflict. They assume that all conflict is destructive because it includes disagreements and differences.
As a new bride, I desperately wanted to be the perfect Christian wife, but I bottled up each irritation and insensitive action, until my husband said or did the one “camel’s back” thing, and then I exploded, spewing what I had saved up for months.
As I studied the Bible and was mentored by wise women, I learned to express my complaints and irritations in small, appropriate doses. These lessons have served me well in marriage and ministry.
The Cure for People-Pleasing
The cure is simple. Perform for an audience of One. Carly Fiop writes, “Learning to please God instead of man is the greatest remedy to the problem of pleasing man ... The desire to please man above all else is to be replaced with the desire to please God above all else... The love of man’s approval is to be replaced with the love of God’s approval.”
We have learned that when your main concern is pleasing God, you actually please more people. They respect you for your inner strength and your authentic walk with God.
On the other end of the spectrum from the people-pleaser is the bulldozer. These women are tough, sometimes too tough. When a woman complains that the event was not undergirded with enough prayer, the potato salad was sour, or the bus driver was rude, the bulldozer’s response is, “Get a life!”
A bulldozer is likely to ignore conflict, determining that it’s not worth her time or effort. Bulldozers are easy prey for well-meaning women who create huge problems. Yes, it’s infuriating to stop important work for the Lord and deal with these seemingly petty issues. But if you don’t, the conflict will probably mushroom and you’ll be sorry.
John Maxwell calls the best leaders “velvet-covered bricks” – not people-pleasers or bulldozers – strong on the inside but soft on the outside.
Velvet-Covered Brick leaders are not afraid to deal with conflict in order to iron out an unhealthy situation. By actively addressing problems, they are peacemakers as opposed to peacekeepers. At the same time, such a leader remains open to the perspective of others. Although supremely confident, a wise leader knows the fallibility of his or her judgment, and they turn an attentive ear to those who share differing opinions.
Now there is a picture women can relate to! Discard your tendency toward people-pleasing and bulldozing and seek to become a “velvet-covered brick.”
Practice, Practice, Practice
Do you tend toward people-pleasing or bulldozing? If you fall into one of the extreme categories, you will need to counteract these tendencies and learn to think and act differently not just when the conflict arises, but every day. We suggest that you work on peacemaking in your everyday relationships with family, friends, and coworkers.
Learn the skills incrementally. You can’t wait until the first time a woman takes you aside and verbally flays you. Intense emotions will likely take over your good sense and you will respond poorly. Wise women and influential leaders pursue peacemaking skills and wise responses in everyday relationships, adopting sound peacemaking strategies as natural response patterns.
Adapted from Women Who Wound: Strategies for an Effective Ministry by Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews, Moody Publishers:Chicago, IL ©2009. Used with permission.