Overcoming the Fear of Confrontation

Reviewed Feb 28, 2017

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Summary

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

Let’s face it—most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. It’s quite normal to feel uneasy approaching someone to voice a complaint or an unmet need. If, however, you dread confrontation so much that you opt for peace at any price, you might be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. You can identify the source of your fear and learn how to confront others with courtesy and with less anxiety. Perhaps the suggestions that follow will help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Family therapist Wendy Hill maintains that most people with such dread actually fear rejection, and that this often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. As an adult, being disliked or rejected shouldn’t have the same power over you, but childhood fears can resurface in stressful situations such as confrontations. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Prior experiences with hostile individuals who became irrational when confronted
  • Conflict phobia—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 and simply discount them

Some careful introspection might make you aware of other causes.

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

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • Being disapproved of or even disliked is not catastrophic. If you approach the person with courtesy and honesty, his rejection of you is irrational and his problem.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence, and your attempt to approach others with consideration and calmness will help.
  • The physical and emotional discomfort you may experience while in a disagreement will pass and will not harm you. Deep breathing will help calm those symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Although valuing the needs of others is admirable, you must also begin to claim your right 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. If your parents modeled shouting or sulking rather than mature confronting, you lack years of good practice at what Dr. Gillian Butler in Managing Your Mind calls “fair fighting.” Butler advises that you 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.

To help keep the confrontation calm and fair, Butler also counsels you to:

  • 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—“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 is no longer courteous, try to calm down, and then restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint, even restating important points if necessary, using 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.

If you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes, rather than a guaranteed catastrophe, your anxiety will likely decrease. 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.

Let’s face it—most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. It’s quite normal to feel uneasy approaching someone to voice a complaint or an unmet need. If, however, you dread confrontation so much that you opt for peace at any price, you might be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. You can identify the source of your fear and learn how to confront others with courtesy and with less anxiety. Perhaps the suggestions that follow will help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Family therapist Wendy Hill maintains that most people with such dread actually fear rejection, and that this often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. As an adult, being disliked or rejected shouldn’t have the same power over you, but childhood fears can resurface in stressful situations such as confrontations. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Prior experiences with hostile individuals who became irrational when confronted
  • Conflict phobia—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 and simply discount them

Some careful introspection might make you aware of other causes.

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

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • Being disapproved of or even disliked is not catastrophic. If you approach the person with courtesy and honesty, his rejection of you is irrational and his problem.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence, and your attempt to approach others with consideration and calmness will help.
  • The physical and emotional discomfort you may experience while in a disagreement will pass and will not harm you. Deep breathing will help calm those symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Although valuing the needs of others is admirable, you must also begin to claim your right 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. If your parents modeled shouting or sulking rather than mature confronting, you lack years of good practice at what Dr. Gillian Butler in Managing Your Mind calls “fair fighting.” Butler advises that you 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.

To help keep the confrontation calm and fair, Butler also counsels you to:

  • 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—“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 is no longer courteous, try to calm down, and then restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint, even restating important points if necessary, using 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.

If you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes, rather than a guaranteed catastrophe, your anxiety will likely decrease. 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.

Let’s face it—most people aren’t comfortable confronting others. It’s quite normal to feel uneasy approaching someone to voice a complaint or an unmet need. If, however, you dread confrontation so much that you opt for peace at any price, you might be settling for unhappiness.

Don’t let the fear of confrontation rule you. You can identify the source of your fear and learn how to confront others with courtesy and with less anxiety. Perhaps the suggestions that follow will help.

It helps to know why you dread it

Family therapist Wendy Hill maintains that most people with such dread actually fear rejection, and that this often can be traced back to childhood, where rejection is seen as a threat to survival. As an adult, being disliked or rejected shouldn’t have the same power over you, but childhood fears can resurface in stressful situations such as confrontations. Other possible sources of the fear of confrontation are:

  • Prior experiences with hostile individuals who became irrational when confronted
  • Conflict phobia—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 and simply discount them

Some careful introspection might make you aware of other causes.

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

Reframe your old thoughts with the following:

  • Being disapproved of or even disliked is not catastrophic. If you approach the person with courtesy and honesty, his rejection of you is irrational and his problem.
  • Most confrontations do not lead to shouting and violence, and your attempt to approach others with consideration and calmness will help.
  • The physical and emotional discomfort you may experience while in a disagreement will pass and will not harm you. Deep breathing will help calm those symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Although valuing the needs of others is admirable, you must also begin to claim your right 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. If your parents modeled shouting or sulking rather than mature confronting, you lack years of good practice at what Dr. Gillian Butler in Managing Your Mind calls “fair fighting.” Butler advises that you 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.

To help keep the confrontation calm and fair, Butler also counsels you to:

  • 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—“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 is no longer courteous, try to calm down, and then restate what the problem is and what you feel and want.
  • Listen carefully to the other person’s responses to your complaint, even restating important points if necessary, using 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.

If you begin to see confrontation as a mature way to express your feelings and wishes, rather than a guaranteed catastrophe, your anxiety will likely decrease. 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, quizzes 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 consider contacting your human resources department. ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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