Confrontation as Opportunity: Embracing Difficult Conversations for Personal and Interpersonal Growth
Discover the power of confrontation and how to turn it into an opportunity for growth
In the past, I've often avoided confrontational situations because of my introverted nature. The thought of confrontation makes me anxious, and I just want the conflict to be over as soon as possible. This often leads me to make concessions I shouldn't make and ultimately not stand up for what I believe in. I realize that avoiding discomfort at the moment only sets me up for even greater discomfort later on. So I have five resolutions this year. Here’s the first one:
I will not shy away from tough conversations. When necessary, I will approach confrontation and tough conversations head-on. I will be resilient, disciplined, and focused and provide that strength to others.
Have you been in a situation where you needed to have a difficult conversation, but just couldn't bring yourself to do it? Whether it's a conversation with a family member, friend, or colleague, we've all been there. The fear of conflict and the unknown outcome can hold us back from having conversations that could change everything.
But what if I told you that one conversation could be the key to ending a long-standing feud, building new connections, or advancing your career? That's right, sometimes all it takes is one conversation to make an enormous impact on our lives.
And it's not just individuals who struggle with confrontational conversations, teams can also suffer when a difficult but important issue goes unaddressed. Tensions rise, trust decreases, and collaboration can grind to a halt. As part of teams that perform crucial functions, such as surgeries, running schools, or managing people's pensions, we can't afford to avoid tough conversations.
That’s why I’ve decided to face my fear of confrontational conversations and learn all I can about how to have them effectively. And, in this article, I'll share what I've learnt with you.
We'll explore the importance of having tough conversations and discuss practical tips and strategies for navigating tough conversations with grace and empathy. So let’s jump in and learn how to lead those conversations that could change everything.
First, why is this important?
Confrontation is an opportunity for growth
Facing difficult conversations head-on allows for a safer space in our relationships to grow and helps improve our communication skills. It allows us to live a more authentic life. We should choose to view confrontational situations as opportunities for growth, both personally and in relationships with others. Helping us to be more resilient, disciplined, and focused, and providing that strength to others.
While confrontational situations can be difficult, facing them head-on can teach us to communicate more effectively and find the right words to express ourselves without escalating the situation.
Embracing responsibility and facing confrontational situations head-on doesn’t just benefit you personally, it also empowers you to help and empower others. When you become comfortable with confrontation, you are better equipped to defend those who—like you before now—may be too afraid or powerless to speak up for themselves. In situations where there are power imbalances, having the confidence to confront the issue head-on can be the difference between perpetuating the imbalance and creating a more equitable and just environment.
For example, when a coworker is being mistreated or taken advantage of, it's easy to feel helpless and unsure of how to support them. However, if you have developed the skills and confidence to engage in confrontational conversations, you can step in and defend them, helping to restore balance and fairness. In this way, it not only benefits you as an individual but also has a ripple effect that positively impacts those around you.
Think about it, when we're honest and transparent about our thoughts and feelings, we give others permission to do the same. It's like we're the first domino that starts the chain reaction. And before we know it, others will start to open up as well, and the conversation will become more and more productive. So, don't be afraid to be the first domino. You never know what kind of positive impact it could have, not just for you but for everyone involved.
Three simple rules
Here are three simple rules I’ve learnt to follow to help me handle confrontation effectively, especially if I’m the one leading the conversation.
The first rule—also the toughest for me—is to move toward the conflict. Conflict likes to hide everywhere and is always looming in every interaction we have. If we continuously avoid it, it will pounce on us when we’re least prepared to deal with it. So the first step is to understand that conflict is not something to be feared or avoided, but it is information that should be approached with a positive mindset. It can actually provide an opportunity to better understand the situation and find a resolution that works for everyone involved. By moving toward the conflict, you can diffuse the tension and help to resolve the issue in a calm and effective manner.
The second rule is to remember that you don’t know as much as you think, and even if you do, it's best to pretend you don't. To truly understand the perspectives of others, you need to ask questions about their experiences and listen to what they have to say. This means truly focusing on what they are saying and avoiding the temptation to interrupt or offer your own opinions before they have finished speaking. By truly listening to what others have to say, you can gain a better understanding of the situation and the concerns of all parties involved. If you approach the conversation with pre-baked solutions, you might make things worse.
Finally, it's important to keep quiet and allow for pauses in the conversation. It may take a few seconds for people to respond, but it’s important not to panic in those moments of silence. Instead, use the pauses as opportunities to drive deeper thought and well-contemplated responses. Rushing in to rescue the conversation from the silence will only disrupt the flow and make it more difficult to achieve a resolution. By giving people time to think and respond, you can create a safe and supportive environment for everyone involved to share their thoughts and feelings.
By following these simple rules and approaching hard conversations with a positive mindset, you can lead productive and effective discussions that help to resolve issues and build stronger relationships.
But what if you dread taking that first step of moving towards the conflict? Here’s what I’ll be doing to ease myself into it.
Learning to “Move toward the conflict,”
Here are a few tips for someone looking to improve their ability to embrace responsibility and face confrontational situations:
Start with small steps: Start by practising in low-stakes situations, like having a difficult conversation with a friend or family member on a subject that’s not about your relationship. This will help build confidence and prepare you for more challenging situations in the future.
Identify your triggers: Take note of what makes you uncomfortable about confrontational situations. This could be the fear of conflict, the fear of hurting someone's feelings, or the fear of not being able to express yourself effectively. By identifying your triggers, you can develop strategies to overcome them.
Prepare yourself: Take some time to think about what you want to say before engaging in a confrontational situation. Write down key points, practice them in your mind, and have a plan for how you want the conversation to go. This preparation will help you feel more confident and in control.
Practice active listening: During confrontational situations, it's important to listen as much as you speak. This means giving the other person your full attention, asking clarifying questions, and repeating back what you've heard to show that you understand.
Stay calm and focused: Confrontational situations can be emotional and stressful, but it's important to stay calm and focused. Take deep breaths, practice mindfulness, and stay present in the moment (my mind wonders a lot, even mid-conversation sometimes, so this is also hard for me). This will help you stay in control and communicate effectively.
Seek support: Surround yourself with supportive people who can help you work through your fears and build your confidence. Consider seeking the guidance of a therapist or coach who can provide additional support and tools for overcoming your challenges.
Practice: The more you practice, the more comfortable you will become with confrontational situations. Try to put yourself in these types of situations as often as you can, and learn from each experience. Over time, you will become more confident, assertive, and effective in handling confrontational situations.
Having the conversation is more important than doing it the “right” way
It's easy to get caught up in the thought of doing it the "right" way, and let's be honest, what even is the "right" way to have a tough conversation? Having the conversation itself is more important than doing it perfectly.
Sure, there are definitely guidelines and best practices to follow, but at the end of the day, the mere act of having the conversation is what truly matters. So, I'm choosing to let go of the fear of not doing it the "right" way and instead, embracing the opportunity to have the conversation at all, otherwise, I won’t do it. After all, it's better to try and potentially make mistakes than to let the fear of not doing it perfectly hold me back from making a difference.
And, who knows, maybe with enough practice, I'll even become a pro at having tough conversations. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet!