How Do You Handle Confrontation?
5th September, 2010
“The definition of madness is trying to solve the same problem the same way but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein (or words to that effect, anyway…I couldn’t find the exact quote).
Burnout happens, not because we’re trying to solve problems but because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over again.
If you have figured out that there’s something you’re pretending not to know going on in your life right now, it’s highly likely you’re going to need to have a conversation with someone about something. I’m guessing something big. A confrontation.
And here comes the classic refrain – “But I hate confrontation…” said in a whiny tone.
Some things are more difficult to talk about than others, right? Many families, business teams, couples, groups of friends operate with an unspoken rule book that includes a list of undiscussables. These are topics that are just too risky to talk about and everyone is in silent agreement about it.
They are the things you bring up in your relationship that turn into a night of rowing, crying and someone sleeping on the sofa.
They might be in the form of quid pro quo agreements that means that without discussing it, everyone instinctively understands that the topic is never to be spoken about:
- I won’t yell at you about the credit card statement if you won’t go mad when I buy four pairs of shoes
- I won’t mention your drinking if you don’t talk about my weight
- I won’t complain about Call of Duty IV addiction if you don’t mention my close relationship with my ex
Sometimes we avoid saying things because we know there will be consequences (and if you get my newsletter, you’ll spot this thinking error).
- Have you lost your mind! If I said that to my boyfriend he’d go ballistic
- He’d just fall apart if I raised that issue, he’s just too fragile
- I think my boyfriend is sleeping with that girl from the office, but if I confront him with my evidence, he’ll deny it, tell me I’m an insecure, jealous harpie and will barely speak to me for a month
- If I talk about that, it’ll put ideas in his head
Are you doing this? Are you dodging a confrontation? I sure as hell have, and there’s no question that I still find it difficult despite years of training and personal development work that’s par for the course when you’re a therapist…I still struggle.
In my personal life and in my professional life, I’ve discovered that there is a seemingly universal talent for avoiding difficult conversations. “I don’t want to rock the boat” is often the excuse for not tackling the issue.
But if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.
If your stomach flips at the thought of confronting someone’s behaviour, then congratulations, you’re in excellent company. It’s way, way less threatening to talk about your dissatisfaction with your sex life than to look your boyfriend right in the eye and address the specific behaviour that may be causing your heart ache.
Fearing confrontation is natural. I’d say especially here in the UK, it’s not part of the cultural identity to open up and have heart-to-hearts. And besides, for the most part, confrontation didn’t go well in the past, am I right? All your attempts to date have taught you the same lesson again and again – don’t bother…it’s too painful…the stakes are just too high.
What are your fears about confronting the issues? Do any of these sound familiar?
- If I bring it up, it might escalate the problem
- I might be rejected
- I could lose the relationship
- Confronting the issue might bring about an outcome for which I am totally unprepared
- What if they retaliate?
- The cure could be worse than the disease
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and I’m going to keep pretending it ain’t broke
- What if they get emotional…or irrational?
- I’ll hurt their feelings
- They’ll hurt my feelings
But are the results of NOT confronting the problem?
- The problem could continue getting worse
- I could get rejected
- I could lose the relationship
- Emotions could continue running high until one of us blows
You see where I’m going with this. The very outcomes we fear the most if we confront someone’s behaviour are practically guaranteed to show up if we don’t.
Here’s the truth – it will just take longer and the results will likely occur at the worst possible moment, when you’re least prepared and feeling at your most vulnerable…and with a huge price tag attached.
When the topic of confrontation comes up you might well conjure up the picture of ranting, screaming, clenched fists, mad, wild eyes…you have a negative context for confrontation.
For example, let’s imagine you believe cats are dangerous. The door opens, a cat saunters in and pads over in your direction. That’s it. No claws, no howling, no hissing…nothing. Just that.
You are afraid. The cat didn’t scare you. Your believe scared you.
Beliefs determine how you feel and therefore they determine how you feel.
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