Mastering Confrontation: How to Address Negatives in a Positive Way

Confrontation has become the other C-word people feel uneasy about. Fear of anger, offense, hurting a relationship, associating it with negativity, and downright not being sure how to confront effectively are to blame. As hard to believe as it may sound, confrontation can have a positive outcome, if approached respectfully and rationally. One way to look at it is as two people combating a problem, instead of two people combating each other. 

Friends In our childhood, we might’ve grown up with the notion that confrontation is negative. Whether it be watching our family members argue, movies where someone always ends up upset, or even history classes where differences end up in war. As young adults, it’s important to replace these notions with healthy communication mechanisms. While shallow friendships enable us to not practice such skills- going about without caring for the behavior of others because they do not affect us- deep meaningful friendships will inevitably have moments that, although uncomfortable, will foster growth and depth. If a friend has done something that has made you uncomfortable, violated a boundary, disrespected you, or hurt you, it’s important to keep in mind that they may not be aware of the impact of what they’ve done. And, if they are, they may not know how to apologize, address, or resolve the matter. Pride may get in the way of either party taking the first step in opening up about the issue. Usually, if we care enough, we're willing to put it aside at least once to attempt resolving the issue and getting the friendship back to a good place. Odds are the friendship will benefit more from calm confrontation than from a false sense of comfort from ignorance of the issue.  

Family Getting through family members, particularly the older generation, might be difficult, due to them possibly being set in their ways. If all their life they have been ineffective at confrontation, or communication in general, you attempting to teach them through example might take a few tries before they understand how to and why it is important. 

Workplace At the workplace, there are supposed to be boundaries already set in place. Whether it be by law or through a common understanding of what an employer to employee or employee to employee dynamic should and, most importantly, shouldn’t be like. If you feel uncomfortable in your work environment a boundary is likely being crossed or inappropriate behavior is taking place. The thought of addressing it might scare you because these are people you see every day and your boss may or may not get upset and fire you, but confrontation should not have to be fear-inducing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an angry discussion or involve disrespect. If you happen to work somewhere you think addressing inappropriate behavior might make others angry, and there is no HR around to keep an eye on things, you might want to consider whether this is a work environment you want to be part of or one that is healthy for you. 

Apart from the ones we’ve already discussed, here are some strategies that can help you discuss negatives in a positive way: 

1.    Speak calmly, when appropriate, when addressing someone you care about, someone that is sensitive to criticism, or someone that is already afraid of having these kinds of discussions because they associate it with a negative interaction or response. 

2.    If you are not sure of whether or not you will be effective in communicating your feelings and thoughts at the moment it happens, wait a bit. Take some time to gather your thoughts and words so that you can communicate more clearly and effectively. Maybe even take some time to assess your reactive feeling(s) to what the person has done. 

3.    Possible phrases to use: “I didn’t appreciate how ____” 

                                                     “___ made me feel ____”                                                     

                                                     “I’m uncomfortable by ______ and would appreciate if you kept it in mind.”        

                                                      “I care about you and our relationship and I think it’s necessary to discuss this to take care of our friendship/relationship/workplace environment.”

4.    If you’re nervous, make a list of points you want to address so that you don’t forget. 

5.    If the person is reacting defensively, assure them that you are not attacking them, instead, you are caring for them and your relationship enough to discuss this. If the person continues to be defensive, it might be best to walk away for the moment. They may or may not reach out to you once they have gotten to a calmer place where they can effectively and respectfully discuss the problem. 

Confronting a negative issue does not have to happen negatively or have a negative outcome. The more aware we become about healthy, effective, and understanding communication mechanisms, the easier it will be to train our brains to stop associating confrontation with anger and instead with a desire to resolve.