Overcoming the Fear of Confrontation

Reviewed Mar 18, 2019

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Summary

  • Identify the source of your fear.
  • Reframe old thoughts about confrontation.
  • Be kind, be direct, and use "I" statements.

Most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. That’s normal. But if you avoid speaking up about your own needs, you may be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. Identify the source of your fear and learn to confront others with less anxiety. The following suggestions may help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Most people who avoid confrontation fear rejection. This often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. This shouldn’t have the same power of you as an adult. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Having confronted someone who reacted with hostility
  • Conflict phobia. This is intense physical distress, anxiety, and panic symptoms when in a disagreement
  • Overestimating the discomfort or harm that the other person will suffer when confronted
  • Feeling inferior to the point where you never place your needs above another’s

Learn to address the source of your fear with a new outlook

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • It’s OK to be disapproved of or even disliked. If you are courteous, being met with rejection is irrational. That’s not your problem, it’s the other person’s.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence. Approaching others calmly will help.
  • Any physical and emotional discomfort will pass. Deep breathing will help calm you.
  • The hurt feelings of the one confronted will also pass. Especially if you learn to confront with grace. Keep in mind that the person might not fear rejection as much as you do.
  • It’s admirable to value the needs of others. But it’s important to tell others what you feel, want, and need. You can look after the welfare of both others and yourself when you confront with consideration and truth.

Confront with grace

Perhaps you have little experience with calm but firm confrontation. Maybe you grew up in a home where shouting or sulking was the norm. Learn to be kind, yet direct, as you state:

  • What the problem is
  • How you feel about it
  • What you want

An example with a co-worker could be:

  • She takes pens and other supplies off your desk without asking.
  • You feel uncomfortable that your space and possessions aren’t secure.
  • Perhaps you are willing to give her some of these things but you want her to ask first.

Keep the confrontation calm but fair by doing the following:

  • Stick to the problem at hand—don’t bring up a laundry list of old complaints.
  • Avoid overgeneralizations such as “You always” and “You never.”
  • Use “I” more than “you” whenever possible. Say, “I feel uncomfortable that my space isn’t secure” rather than “You make me uncomfortable when you take my stuff.”
  • Watch out for escalation. If the conversation becomes heated, try to calm down. Restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint. Restate important points if necessary. Use phrases like “I think I’m understanding you to say …”
  • Know your limits. You will not be able to control the other person, nor should that be the purpose of the confrontation. Your goal is to express a problem or unmet need without using threats or force.

Your anxiety will ease when you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes. Keep your approach honest and kind, free of defensiveness, and judgment, and the other person will probably do the same. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Cloud, Henry (2005) “Healthy Confrontations,” Parent Life, 42-43; Hill, Wendy “How to Have a Better Life and Better Relationships,” www.wendyhill.com; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler. Oxford University Press, 1995; The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company, 1989; Triumph Over Fear by Jerilyn Ross. Bantam Books, 1994.

Summary

  • Identify the source of your fear.
  • Reframe old thoughts about confrontation.
  • Be kind, be direct, and use "I" statements.

Most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. That’s normal. But if you avoid speaking up about your own needs, you may be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. Identify the source of your fear and learn to confront others with less anxiety. The following suggestions may help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Most people who avoid confrontation fear rejection. This often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. This shouldn’t have the same power of you as an adult. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Having confronted someone who reacted with hostility
  • Conflict phobia. This is intense physical distress, anxiety, and panic symptoms when in a disagreement
  • Overestimating the discomfort or harm that the other person will suffer when confronted
  • Feeling inferior to the point where you never place your needs above another’s

Learn to address the source of your fear with a new outlook

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • It’s OK to be disapproved of or even disliked. If you are courteous, being met with rejection is irrational. That’s not your problem, it’s the other person’s.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence. Approaching others calmly will help.
  • Any physical and emotional discomfort will pass. Deep breathing will help calm you.
  • The hurt feelings of the one confronted will also pass. Especially if you learn to confront with grace. Keep in mind that the person might not fear rejection as much as you do.
  • It’s admirable to value the needs of others. But it’s important to tell others what you feel, want, and need. You can look after the welfare of both others and yourself when you confront with consideration and truth.

Confront with grace

Perhaps you have little experience with calm but firm confrontation. Maybe you grew up in a home where shouting or sulking was the norm. Learn to be kind, yet direct, as you state:

  • What the problem is
  • How you feel about it
  • What you want

An example with a co-worker could be:

  • She takes pens and other supplies off your desk without asking.
  • You feel uncomfortable that your space and possessions aren’t secure.
  • Perhaps you are willing to give her some of these things but you want her to ask first.

Keep the confrontation calm but fair by doing the following:

  • Stick to the problem at hand—don’t bring up a laundry list of old complaints.
  • Avoid overgeneralizations such as “You always” and “You never.”
  • Use “I” more than “you” whenever possible. Say, “I feel uncomfortable that my space isn’t secure” rather than “You make me uncomfortable when you take my stuff.”
  • Watch out for escalation. If the conversation becomes heated, try to calm down. Restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint. Restate important points if necessary. Use phrases like “I think I’m understanding you to say …”
  • Know your limits. You will not be able to control the other person, nor should that be the purpose of the confrontation. Your goal is to express a problem or unmet need without using threats or force.

Your anxiety will ease when you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes. Keep your approach honest and kind, free of defensiveness, and judgment, and the other person will probably do the same. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Cloud, Henry (2005) “Healthy Confrontations,” Parent Life, 42-43; Hill, Wendy “How to Have a Better Life and Better Relationships,” www.wendyhill.com; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler. Oxford University Press, 1995; The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company, 1989; Triumph Over Fear by Jerilyn Ross. Bantam Books, 1994.

Summary

  • Identify the source of your fear.
  • Reframe old thoughts about confrontation.
  • Be kind, be direct, and use "I" statements.

Most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. That’s normal. But if you avoid speaking up about your own needs, you may be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. Identify the source of your fear and learn to confront others with less anxiety. The following suggestions may help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Most people who avoid confrontation fear rejection. This often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. This shouldn’t have the same power of you as an adult. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Having confronted someone who reacted with hostility
  • Conflict phobia. This is intense physical distress, anxiety, and panic symptoms when in a disagreement
  • Overestimating the discomfort or harm that the other person will suffer when confronted
  • Feeling inferior to the point where you never place your needs above another’s

Learn to address the source of your fear with a new outlook

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • It’s OK to be disapproved of or even disliked. If you are courteous, being met with rejection is irrational. That’s not your problem, it’s the other person’s.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence. Approaching others calmly will help.
  • Any physical and emotional discomfort will pass. Deep breathing will help calm you.
  • The hurt feelings of the one confronted will also pass. Especially if you learn to confront with grace. Keep in mind that the person might not fear rejection as much as you do.
  • It’s admirable to value the needs of others. But it’s important to tell others what you feel, want, and need. You can look after the welfare of both others and yourself when you confront with consideration and truth.

Confront with grace

Perhaps you have little experience with calm but firm confrontation. Maybe you grew up in a home where shouting or sulking was the norm. Learn to be kind, yet direct, as you state:

  • What the problem is
  • How you feel about it
  • What you want

An example with a co-worker could be:

  • She takes pens and other supplies off your desk without asking.
  • You feel uncomfortable that your space and possessions aren’t secure.
  • Perhaps you are willing to give her some of these things but you want her to ask first.

Keep the confrontation calm but fair by doing the following:

  • Stick to the problem at hand—don’t bring up a laundry list of old complaints.
  • Avoid overgeneralizations such as “You always” and “You never.”
  • Use “I” more than “you” whenever possible. Say, “I feel uncomfortable that my space isn’t secure” rather than “You make me uncomfortable when you take my stuff.”
  • Watch out for escalation. If the conversation becomes heated, try to calm down. Restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint. Restate important points if necessary. Use phrases like “I think I’m understanding you to say …”
  • Know your limits. You will not be able to control the other person, nor should that be the purpose of the confrontation. Your goal is to express a problem or unmet need without using threats or force.

Your anxiety will ease when you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes. Keep your approach honest and kind, free of defensiveness, and judgment, and the other person will probably do the same. 

By Laurie Stewart
Source: Cloud, Henry (2005) “Healthy Confrontations,” Parent Life, 42-43; Hill, Wendy “How to Have a Better Life and Better Relationships,” www.wendyhill.com; Managing Your Mind by Gillian Butler. Oxford University Press, 1995; The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, MD. William Morrow and Company, 1989; Triumph Over Fear by Jerilyn Ross. Bantam Books, 1994.

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as behavioral health care or management advice. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have questions related to workplace issues, please contact your human resources department. ©2019 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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