Wright Foundation | May 21, 2015

How to be Comfortable
with Confrontation

We all know how difficult it can be to confront someone about a behavior or situation.

Confrontation will never truly be comfortable, but, just like conflict, it’s a frequent and necessary part of work and life. Understanding the roots of confrontation and conflict, evaluating yourself as well as the other party’s personality, and weighing the value you place on the outcome and your relationship can help you forge your path to a win/win situation.

Why is Confrontation Uncomfortable?

Confrontation is naturally difficult because as human beings, we want to move away from pain and towards pleasure. So when you have to confront someone who’s doing something you don’t like or don’t agree with, you’re already uncomfortable because something is bothering you—but now it’s even worse because you have to talk to that person about it and you probably want him or her to approve of you.

This is the uncomfortable part: you want the discussion to go well—but confrontation means taking a risk because you may be unsure of the other party’s feelings. We may be afraid of rejection or afraid of not getting what we want. Not to mention that little uncomfortable voice in your head after the confrontation…you may feel guilt or shame, or even question why you decided to stand up in the first place. Confrontation is difficult because we have to face our fears—and ourselves.

What Types of Conflicts Are There?

When people are in conflict, they’re mainly concerned with one of two things: 1. Their relationship with the person they’re confronting, and 2. The outcome of the situation.

Those more interested in the outcome of the confrontation tend to be vehement—they won’t stop until they get what they want, potentially damaging the relationship involved. Thus, this is called a win/lose approach. You won the outcome but lost the relationship.

When people are more concerned about the relationship, they tend to be more muted in their tone and less aggressive. They create a rapport with the other person with the overall goal of understanding each other. In this situation, you are pleasing the other person so much that it becomes a lose/win situation—you’ve lost the outcome but won the relationship.

If the confrontation lies somewhere in between and you want to both achieve your outcome and maintain your relationship, this is called negotiating and it’s a you-win-some/you-lose-some situation.

If you simply don’t care about the outcome or the relationship at all, that’s called avoidance and it’s definitely going to be a lose/lose scenario.

Now, people who are concerned about both gaining a positive outcome and maintaining a positive relationship are going for the win/win approach. This creates a synergistic situation, as the overall goal of both parties is betterment for all people involved. Yes, it’s tougher and it takes more time and more skill but the result is a rewarding and creative win/win outcome.

What About the Social Contract?

The social contracts and relationships we have and build throughout our lives are unique and based on the individuals involved. For example, you certainly wouldn’t talk to your CEO the way you talk to your teenage son. Before acting, ask yourself, “What is the social agreement I have with this person?”

If you just met a new person and you don’t yet have a real contract established, this can be a dangerous situation. You risk displaying the wrong attitude—you might be too confrontational or not confrontational enough. Scope out the situation and feel out what types of social relationships the party has with others and engage in conflict and confrontation in a way that helps you win.

Use Awareness and Social & Emotional Intelligence to Win

Your personality also relates to who and what makes you uncomfortable, so you can’t ignore your own conflict style when approaching a conflict. The same is true for the other person involved: consider their feelings and how they may react to your confrontation. This should signal how you speak and what language you use.

The situation itself is also important to consider when planning a confrontation. If the cost is going to be great and immediate, you may need to confront full-force. But if the situation is minor and doesn’t affect your productivity, focus on developing the relationship. Circumstances play a great deal into whether you confront or not and how you do so.

There are many times when maintaining a relationship is far more important than confronting someone over a small irritating behavior.

When you’re aware of yourself and the other person, and you take the time to understand the potential short-and long-term outcomes, you’ll know the right way to approach every confrontation.

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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.