Necessary Confrontations

Scream Of Anger

Confrontation does NOT have to look like this.

There’s something about me that I’ve never shared on this blog before. Here goes:

I absolutely hate confrontation.

Not only do I hate it, but I also tend to avoid it whenever humanly possible.

Sounds weird, right? Aren’t I the guy who proudly proclaims that we need to find the courage to stand up to the bullies and ruthlessly remove the toxic people in our lives?

Yes, it’s all still me.

Just because I hate confrontation doesn’t mean that I won’t engage in it when it’s necessary.

Sometimes I hate going to the gym, eating my veggies and saving money instead of spending it, but since I’ve determined that doing these things are necessary for me to have the best shot at enjoying my most positive life possible, I end up doing them anyway.

That’s the key word: necessary

And there is no doubt that learning to effectively deal with confrontation is a necessary skill in order to enjoy a positive life.

Whether we like it or not.

You’re Not Alone

Here’s a little known fact, and a bit of good news, if you weren’t aware of this already:

Almost everyone hates confrontation.

In my opinion, anyone who actually loves confrontation, or worse, actively seeks it out, is definitely a little weird (if you know anyone who’s confrontational, I’m sure that you’re with me on this.)

Most people don’t enjoy the act of confronting other people because:

1) It can be extremely challenging, frustrating and emotionally messy.

2) We’ll have to fight through our fears and insecurities in order to do it.

3) Worst of all, even if we confront the person in the most mature manner possible, there is a real chance that it still might not work and it could even make the relationship worse than it was before the confrontation.

So, why should we do it?

Because it’s necessary, that’s why.

Contrary to popular belief, confrontation doesn’t have to devolve into an ugly screaming match and it doesn’t have to destroy relationships either. The point of a confrontation is simply to resolve conflict–and if you’ve determined that it is necessary for the conflict to be resolved, then you really don’t have much of a choice but to have the confrontation.

In other words, the real question isn’t if you should confront the person, the real question is if you think that it’s necessary to do it.

Here’s one way to figure it out.

Confront or Not to Confront

This advice might seem a little counter-intuitive, but if you’re on the fence about whether or not you should confront someone about a conflict, here’s a super simple way to figure it out:

Keep score.

Let me explain. Let’s say that you have an annoying coworker in the adjacent cubicle who loves to engage in loud, personal cell phone conversations when she should be working.

One way to tell if it’s worth having a confrontation is to actively keep track of how often this behavior is happening and how it is negatively affecting you. If you leave it up to your memory, you may overestimate or underestimate the frequency and the effect of the behavior–but if you keep track of it, then it becomes much more objective.

For example, let’s say that when you’ve kept track, you’ve noticed that these loud cell phone conversations have happened eight times in the past week. And each time, it has negatively affected your job performance due to your inability to concentrate, and it has also increased your workload because while she’s chatting with her buddies, you’re stuck doing her work.

At this point, I would say that it is necessary to have the confrontation.

This advice works in pretty much in any situation.

If you are determining whether to confront your spouse (or your friend or your boss) about an issue that’s been bugging you, one way to determine if the conflict is worth it is to actively keep track of how many times the issue is happening and how it negatively affects you when it does happen.

If it is an issue that only comes up once in a while or if it’s an issue that doesn’t really affect you too much, then feel free to blow it off and ignore it. But if it’s a repeated issue that is deeply affecting you in a negative way, then you owe it to yourself to have the confrontation.

What we allow is what will continue, right?

Here’s how to have the confrontation.

Positive Confrontation in Three Steps

Done correctly, confrontation has the power to strengthen a relationship.

I know that the strongest relationships in my life have endured quite a few confrontations. On the other hand, the most superficial relationships in my life have had very few, if any, confrontations.

That’s why I want to start by being very clear that even though confrontation might not be the most enjoyable thing in the world, it is still a positive act. The best kinds of confrontations have the power to deepen understanding between two people and create a stronger bond, as long as it’s always done in a spirit of mutual respect.

Let me give you a real example of what has worked for me:

1. Stop Making Up Stories

Six years ago, I used to live in an apartment complex that was super loud. Specifically, there was a couple who lived in the apartment below mine who would get into the most over-the-top Maury Povich Show-esque arguments on a nightly basis.

This would be annoying enough, but at the time, my wife and I just had our first baby. So, not only were we incredibly sleep deprived, but there were times when our baby would finally be sleeping and my neighbors’ mindless screaming would either wake us up, or worse, wake up our infant daughter.

Since this happened four straight nights in a row, it was clear that it was very necessary to have this confrontation ASAP (looking back on it now, I’m surprised that I waited that long.)

In order to make sure that I didn’t lose my cool or say something stupid, I made a point not to go into the confrontation with any made-up stories about why they were doing what they were doing.

Before I cleared my mind, I noticed that I had thoughts like, “Ugh, I hate those people downstairs! What type of insensitive asses would purposely keep awake a newborn baby? I seriously want to slash their tires or set their apartment on fire for doing this to my family…”

Clearly, thoughts like those aren’t very positive (I blame it on the sleep deprivation ;)), so I opted for Option B instead:

I decided that I would go into the confrontation without any preconceived idea about why they were being so loud. Easier said than done, I know, but it is a critical step to give the confrontation the best chance of a positive outcome.

But before I had the confrontation, I still had to do something first.

2. Be Very Clear on the Ideal Outcome

A lot of people skip this step, but it’s arguably the most important one.

Before engaging in a conflict, you must be crystal clear on what the ideal outcome should be.

In this case it was simple: I needed the couple downstairs from me to keep the noise down when my family was trying to get some much-needed sleep.

And like I said earlier, you can use this strategy in any situation. Here are some real examples in my life of the ideal outcomes in my mind, before I engaged in a confrontation:

  • I needed a long-time friend to pay me back for the $200 he borrowed from me.
  • I needed my significant other to stop losing her temper and taking out her frustrations at work, on me.
  • I needed another blogger to stop plagiarizing my blog posts.
  • I needed my boss to stop humiliating me in front of my coworkers.

Having a crystal-clear ideal outcome in your mind before engaging the conflict will keep you on track when engaging in the confrontation.

3. Stick to the Facts, Not Your Emotions

Admittedly, when I walked downstairs to have the confrontation with my loud neighbors, it felt like my heart was beating out of my chest (I’m not kidding–I really do hate confrontation.)

When the boyfriend opened the door, I stayed calm and said the following in an even-keeled, non-threatening tone of voice:

“Hey man, I live in the apartment upstairs and the late-night arguments that you and your girlfriend have been having are keeping my family awake. We have a two-month old daughter, and we need all the sleep that we can get. Can you please keep it down so that we can sleep?”

That’s what positive confrontation looks like. There was no screaming, cursing or punches thrown. It was simply an attempt to resolve a conflict.

Fortunately, it worked.

He was absolutely mortified, and by the end of the conversation, I actually started feeling bad for him. He was incredibly apologetic, and later on that night, he left my wife and me a bottle of wine and a sincere note to apologize.

Best of all, after the confrontation, we never heard a peep out them until the day that we finally moved out a year later.

What if it Doesn’t Work Out?

Unfortunately, just because you’re willing to confront an issue doesn’t mean that it will work out like the situation with my former neighbors. Remember the examples that I mentioned earlier?

  • I needed a long-time friend to pay me back for the $200 he borrowed from me.
  • I needed my significant other to stop losing her temper and taking out her frustrations at work, on me.
  • I needed another blogger to stop plagiarizing my blog posts.
  • I needed my boss to stop humiliating me in front of my coworkers.

Well, here are the outcomes of those confrontations:

  • He called me “insensitive and greedy” for asking for my money back, and we stopped talking. I still haven’t heard from him in close 10 years, and I haven’t seen a dime of that money either.
  • She was unable (or unwilling) to stop taking her frustrations out me, so I broke up with her.
  • The blogger ignored my repeated requests to take down the plagiarized blog post.
  • My boss no longer publicly humiliated me anymore, but she started to become passive-aggressive instead.

At this point, you might be thinking, “that’s exactly why I’m afraid to have the confrontation.” And if so, you’re thinking the wrong thought.

The only question that matters is, “is this confrontation necessary?” Or worded differently, “will my life be much worse if I choose to do nothing about this?”

If the answer to either question is “yes,” then we must find the courage to honor ourselves and do it. We shouldn’t need a guarantee of a positive outcome in order to honor ourselves.

Unfortunately, human behavior is completely unpredictable. Even if you keep your cool and approach the confrontation with flawless maturity, you still might not get the positive outcome that you are hoping for.

Once thing is for sure, you are guaranteed not to get your ideal outcome if you don’t try.

I can say with confidence that when I have determined that a confrontation was necessary and approached it by following the three steps outlined above, it has ended up positively more often than not. Just the mere act of honoring myself was enough to make the experience worthwhile, regardless of the outcome.

Even so, I’m not here to lie to anyone–I still hate confrontation.

But I’ll still do it whenever it’s necessary.

Will you?

Your Turn

Do you hate confrontation? Even worse, do you actively try to avoid confrontations that you know that you need to have? How do you deal with confrontation? Jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!

 

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola
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Comments

  1. I think confrontations are one of my very least things in the world. I dread them. I would much prefer to stick my head in the sand and pretend all is well than actually go face to face with someone who is causing issues.

    Unfortunately, as much as I want to avoid confrontations, I don’t. As a grown up, I guess it’s part of the job description? Also, I have had positive results from some of the confrontations I have had.

    1. I had a co-worker who was chronically negative. It was to the point where I dreaded bringing up anything with her. Unfortunately, as her supervisor, I had to deal with it. I finally sat her down one day and talked about her ‘Debbie Downer’ attitude. I spoke how it was affecting me and my joy. It was hard, but it worked. And she seemed to appreciate it. I don’t think she realized how negative she was.

    2. In another job, I had a coworker that was upsetting a lot of the youth we worked with simply by HOW she spoke to them. She tended to speak from a parent point of view, which immediately angered and offended the youth who felt they did not deserve that. (They were 17-24 years old) After we spoke, she was more conscious of how she addressed the youth and when she erred, she apologized!

    3. Each of my children has gone through a phase (right around the age of 12/13) of being a Negative Nancy/Chronic Complainer. Again, I had to sit them down and expressly request that they think about how they were speaking. I had to talk about how their negativity was affecting everyone around them, while also respecting that they were likely going through some difficulties. So far, so good!!! (So don’t despair, Shola, if your daughters hit that same point and you want to flush them! It is something you can work through!)

    Confrontations are not fun, but they can totally transform a difficult situation. And yes, I have had confrontations that did not go well. I reflect on those as learning experiences and move on! 🙂

    I hope you had a blessed Memorial Day Weekend!

  2. Hi Shola! this is another great article! I do hate confrontation but like you said, sometimes its necessary. Last year I was dating this guy, we got a long very well, things were getting very nice and serious and suddenly he said he didn’t want a relationship but wanted to keep our friendship. I said “ok, fine, we can be friends then” and I did my best to be just friendly. Days passed and he started to act cold and distant with me. He began saying things that were hurting me.

    I felt disrespected and very bad with myself for allowing him to treat me like that (I remember your post “what you allow”) and on top of that we were supposed to go to a friend’s wedding together in a week. After giving it a lot of thought I finally went to confront him in hopes to get things better between us. I told him “Hey, I feel uncomfortable with the way you are treating me, I don’t think this is the kind of friendship I want to have with you” and he said “Me neither, but if things are not ok between us then I will go with someone else to the wedding, so you won’t feel uncomfortable” (Yup, that was his response). Correct me if I am wrong Shola, but to me that’s not how things are solved, that’s not how true friends act. His response made me feel like he didn’t care about my feelings and preferred to go with someone else than to confront me and talk about how to improve our friendship. I told him he was hurting me with his attitude. At the end he said “Ok fine, I’ll try to be nicer to you” (Ok, that was probably his best answer) but then he added “In my honest opinion, you are taking things too personal” (Really?) that’s when I lost it; I said “with the way you are treating me, you really expected me not to take it personal? I am not a toy” and left with my dignity.

    The outcome was: he went with someone else to the wedding, I went with my best friend and had a blast. My friendship with this guy was over and I haven’t heard from him ever since. The outcome wasn’t the one I was hoping for, but I think I did the right thing; I had to step up and confront him about his weird behavior towards me. What do you think Shola?

    Thank you so much for such a great article! Blessings to you and your family 🙂

  3. Oh Shola, I HATE confrontation. I grew up with a mom who was “that person”. The one who screamed abuse at the neighbor who politely asked her to keep her kids out of their yard, the one who cussed out the teacher who politely asked if the kid’s homework could be a little neater, etc. I dread every confrontation, no matter how level-headed my approach, just knowing that “my mother” is out there, lurking in other people’s psyches. I have learned to speak up, I’ve actually taken assertiveness classes, and read a lot too. Over the years, I think I’m doing ok. Like you, my experience is spotty. Sometimes assertiveness gets a positive result, other times it all goes to shit. I will say this, and it is very important to me: consider the worst-case scenario, that you spoke up, and the situation didn’t improve, or even deteriorated. Well, which would you rather be, the person who is being taken advantage of, and you stood up for yourself, or would you rather be the person who is being taken advantage of, and you just hid inside your little turtle shell and accepted the abuse? I’d rather be a defeated fighter, and have my dignity. Shola, this is such a good post. Thank you for reminding us about how our behaviors impact our ability to lead a positive life.

  4. I so totally get this! I am the very definition of non-confrontational. I admit that I’m not as brave as you are about confronting necessary things though…I know that I really should be brave about it, but I find confrontation so distasteful that I almost become an anxious mess when I get in situations where it’s unavoidable…isn’t that awful!? I’m going to work on getting better at that…Thanks Shola…Have a wonderful week!

  5. Hi Shola 🙂 Why I didn’t like any confrontation 1-2 years ago? Maybe, I hoped that anyone was a well-qualified telepath? We can laugh on it together now, but I have spent a lot of time to understand this simple fact: my brains are into my head and anyone can see them. If I want/don’t want sth – I need to say this. Being too patient is a bad gift for difficult people: how can they find out their stupid and painful activity unless someone tell them?
    Have a nice day) Olenka.

  6. As always Shola by baring your soul and sharing your experiences and wisdom you make anything feel possible. Even the most scary things we all must do! I read an awesome book called Crucial Conversations which helped me immensely too.

  7. Hi Shola,

    Can I thank you for this post. I have referred to it a couple of times already to use as a support. It has helped me so much to ground me to take my emotions out of the picture and stick to the facts. Many heartfelt thanks for all that you do to help the world and me.

    Gina

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