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Confronting your fear of confrontation

Image by Antonio Gonzalez from Pixabay

It seems people’s feelings about confrontation exist along the spectrum from those who avoid it at all costs to those who lean into it and can’t figure out why the person they need to confront is avoiding them.

How you handle confrontation might vary depending on your environment or who you are speaking to. For instance, you might avoid confrontation at work and initiate it at home.

Anecdotally speaking, it’s been my experience that even though we all approach confrontation from very different places, we often make the same mistake: We get hyper focused on the person we need to confront and neglect the actual source of conflict.

I’m hardly the first person to make this observation, but I have recently come up with a little trick to help myself shift my mindset from the person to the problem. It just requires a little wordsmithing. This is how it works:

Let’s say that I have a client that has been a no-show for two sessions. As someone who naturally leans towards conflict aversion, I might say to myself something like

“I really have to confront my client about my cancellation policy.

This thought gets my imagination going about how they might respond, and I start worrying about hurting their feelings. Then dread sets in, and I make excuses for why I should give the client another chance or maybe just let it go. But what if I tweak the statement to:

“I really have to confront my cancellation policy with my client.

With some simple changes, I’ve transferred the focus of the conflict to my cancellation policy, and I’ve set the intention to work with my client to find a solution.

This exercise can be effective regardless of where you exist on the confrontation spectrum. For those who avoid it like the plague, this turns your “enemy” into an ally, where you resolve the conflict together. If you are someone who readily engages in confrontation, this exercise will channel that readiness towards troubleshooting the problem and away from the other person making it easier for them to engage with you. To confront or not to confront? That’s a great question. It’s easy for me to sit here at my keyboard and say, “Get out there and tackle your problems!” It’s simple for someone on the outside looking in to say, “Just shift your focus!”

You might be screaming, “You don’t get it! It’s not that simple!” I DO get it. And you are right. It’s NOT that simple. You are the one in the hot seat. You will be the one to face the consequences of your decision. It’s entirely possible that choosing not to confront is the right choice.

BUT... just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, here are couple questions to consider:

  • By avoiding confrontation, are you also avoiding a path to a solution?

  • If you confront a problem with someone and they don’t respond the way you wanted them to, how might that result be valuable to you?

  • What is the worst possible outcome? Can you live with it?

  • What is the best possible outcome? And is it worth the risk?

  • What is it costing you to avoid confrontation?

A few scenarios where it would be very reasonable not to confront something or someone:

  • You are not invested in solving the problem.

  • You are not invested in fostering the relationship.

  • You don’t feel safe. (Emotionally or physically.)

Whatever you decide, I encourage you to make it a conscious choice driven by your values rather than a fear-based reaction. Since you will bear the result of your actions, only you can make the best decision for yourself.


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