How To Have The Difficult Confrontation You’ve Been Avoiding

Dale Partridge
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The word confront is rooted in Latin and means: To turn one's face toward something or someone.

But nobody likes confrontation. We fear it will break relationships or add more harm or result in anger. But more often than not, it's just because we don't know how to handle confrontation safely.

So, when might confrontation be helpful? Let's say you have a friend who is vulgar and it's damaging his reputation. Or maybe your sister is always making disrespectful comments about her husband to her friends. Or your colleague is always late to your meetings and you're beginning to build resentment.

The longer you wait to confront someone, the worse the problem will get.

For example, just yesterday my good friend pulled me aside and said, “Dale you were really harsh with your words to him earlier. It made me feel uncomfortable and it probably hurt his feelings.”

Ouch. I felt like an idiot for a moment, but realized his statement was founded in love and will ultimately grow me as a person.

In my experience, here are four questions that have provided me the clarity needed to move forward with confrontation.

1. Will confronting this person preserve love?
2. Will confronting this person resolve disconnection or building resentment?
3. Will confronting this person empower or build them up?
4. Will confronting this person solve problems that will likely get worse?

If you've answered yes to any of these, you might just have a confrontation on your hands. But as we all know, there's not a real pretty way of telling someone they have a booger on their face. So I've put together a short list of steps to help you remove the resentment, help each other grow, and gain the ability to have healthy conflict that won't destroy your relationships.

Remember, confrontation is about reconciliation and awareness, not judgment or anger.

1. Ask Permission
Before you open a potential can of worms, softly ask the person if you could have a conversation about something that is bothering you. This puts them in control and allows them to prepare emotionally for what is to come.

2. Do it in person
In our generation, we often use social media and email as a surface-level way to stay connected to friends. But a relationship that is struggling or gearing up for a healthy confrontation should never be handled in digital format. As you likely know, any conflict seems much worse when you read it. Furthermore, there is a good chance the responder will feel attacked or judged. Social media and email is a great way to stay connected, but face-to-face communication is the only way to gain reconnection.

confrontation

3. Converse, don't lecture
In Proverbs, there's a verse that says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” There's nothing more harsh than someone lecturing you on your behavior. Instead, sit at eye level, intently listen, be warm and available, and most importantly, be willing and ready to feel uncomfortable.

Be careful on how you use your words. Stay away from “you need to…” Rather, use this formula, “when you do ‘A', it makes me feel ‘B'.” And expect them to be defensive and even to divert the attention elsewhere. Be strong enough to bring the conversation back to the issue.

At the end, clarify expectations, apologize for your part or any pain you may have caused, and thank them for allowing you to speak with them.

It's relationships like these that will provide the depth and connection your soul truly desires. There's nothing easy about it. But you'll be better for it.

How have you handled confrontation in the past? Do you have any tips? Let me know in the comments below.

Awesome photo by Lightstock

41 COMMENTS

    • Then there is nothing you can do. You cannot force someone to hear you. But you can learn how to approach it in a way that would not cause them to be defensive and be a bit more open than they would normally.

  1. Great advice, Dale. I usually don’t have a problem with confrontation, but I feel like I always say things too harshly, like without sugar-coating it. These are great ways to get my point across, but do it kindly and effectively.

  2. I had to confront an issue with my brothers yesterday because they were annoying and judgmental all the time , so i take a step and talk with them how awful they were making me feel and how mean they were being with their words and actions , it did helped me to feel relieve and better .

  3. I have to confront someone that I thought was a friend. I had sent him an email trying to explain how I feel and it completely went wrong and now when I see him he won’t even look or talk to me. I know he’s avoiding me but the worst part is he acts like I’m invisible. I regret sending the e-mail and I really could have used this advice at the time. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I have a lot of built of anger and resentment towards my sister-in-law and a confrontation will most likely occur. I’m grateful for what you’ve shared. It’s shed a new light for me on how to approach the situation, and has given me a lot to think about.

  5. I have a question. What would you suggest if it is something you have addressed before and the situation doesn’t improve? Going back to your example that I have dealt with: I have a co-worker that is always coming in late to work, she doesn’t have a set work schedule and I do but we work together on a lot of items. I have told her before that it is frustrating when she gets there much later than me and we run out of time to cover the items we need to go over. She states she will work on it and really never improves. I feel bringing it up again will sound like nagging even if it is approached appropriately and still won’t change anything, so why say anything? But it is builds up frustration.

    • If your coworker is late all the time and it is causing you to fall behind on projects, you need to go to your manager or supervisor. This is not something you should be addressing unless you are her direct superior. I know how frustrating this is. And although it may be awkward, you may need to let this person know if it happens again you’ll need to contact the manager. It may be a difficult thing to do since you work so closely, but this is directly affecting your job which could come back to bite you. =/ Good luck my friend!

  6. hi, if someone confronts you in anger, not to resolve but criticize and belittle you, how do you deal with that?

    • Hi Loulou, I am a firm believer that you teach people how to treat you. If you are being belittled, it is up to you to put an end to it. Make sure the other person understands what you’re feeling and why the are making you feel that way. If they refuse to listen, what more can you do? It’ll be up to you to decide when it’s time to walk away and agree to disagree.

  7. This is exactly what my wise friend and pastor has helped my wife and I with recently. To avoid “You” language. He even talked about the “when you do __, I feel like__”. It’s very refreshing to hear it coming from another source, and to hear that it has helped others. Thank you!

  8. I was jut praying about whether or not I should confront someone about something that has been building resentment in me. Then God put this article in my face! Now I just need the courage to obey.

    • Whenever you have resentment in your heart, that’s when you need to confront. Read Matthew 18:15-17. You got this!

  9. I am dating this guy. We have been dating for 6 months. He has a 6 year old daughter. Im ready to meet her. Im afraid to tell him because i dont want to push him away. I want him to know that i am in this for the long. I think hes protecting her but i think hes protecting himself more because hes afraid to be hurt again and hes using his little girl as a shield, but I think hes also afraid that the mother of his child would try to take her away just because hes happy. How do i start such a sensitive conversation.

    • Hi Jackie, sounds like you’re in a bit of a sticky situation. But in my opinion, 6 months is a great amount of time to be together before you meet your significant other’s children. However, given your boyfriend’s past, you know you have to tread lightly. Start off with a question like, “What do you think about me meeting your daughter soon?” and take it from there. Pose the question and let him answer. If he’s not ready, don’t push. Stay loving, be understanding. Validate his feelings and hopefully he will validate yours. But communication is extremely important and you two have to learn to communicate about EVERYTHING.. even the hard stuff, at some point or another. You’re in such a crucial stage of your relationship where the foundation is being set, and you have to be intentional about setting it.

  10. Recently, a friend and I were confronted by a number of people who claimed to be our friends. They said many negative things that some we actually apologized for because we were truly guilty. However, I believed that the way they talked to us was not right; with them thinking that the harsh truth must be said, and that hurting and offending wouldn’t be avoided since they were full of anger and resentment. The next day I spoke to them about how hurtful their words were, tried to make them realize how badly they treated us. But they still stood for what they have said. I truly was sorry, but I believe that issues can be confronted and approached the way this article says it’s supposed to be. Now, I haven’t talked to them but have no hard feelings for them either. Our opinions clashed so much that fighting for the friendship was not worth it anymore. Anyways, thank you for this article man! Your works always make sense to me, and I’m pretty sure to a lot of people! Godspeed

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, man! You don’t need people in your life that speak down to you and don’t honor you as a friend. With you and for you, man.

  11. Hi, I have been married for almost 28 years, We have two amazing children in their twenties now. two years ago I saw my husbands tablet when he was sexting with another woman. IT so happened that this was an old girlriend from high school. I immediately asked what was going on. He at first said well I warned you….. are you kidding warned me about what, that he was gonna cheat?……that I wasn’t having enough sex with him…..we were runnning nonstop everynight raising our kids, they were involved in many activities and were very successful. We both fell into bed tired at night….it wasn’t like I didn’t want it……anyways he basically said it was just a phone thing…whatever…. I thought that was the end of that. We worked hard on our relationship,,,,at least I thought we were…. Kids were in college…we had time again for each other and were having a great time…….he was very loving and saying how much he loved me……then a year later, things still good between us, I found him doing the same thing, sexting with another old girlfriend….one that I knew back when we were dating……blew me away, I was in shock……asked how he found her….facebook of course…..he was very remorseful, and I told him I would take action if he ever talked to her again……he’s been cheating and lying for at least two years….. totally underestimated me…….I have proof of both relationships and have considered going to lawyer and suing them both for interference of a sacred instution of marriage. I will fight for my family….. my kids would be devestated and never talk to their dad again as well as his elderly parents would totally be blown away… my family also would be so hurt…. I can not do that to them. its not just about my happiness here,,,, I made this bed, I want to try to keep it. my problem is not confronting him that I know it is going on…… I am so hurt, angry, shattered broken.. you name it, I feel it…….I am considering confronting the women,,,,,,,either in person or by lawyer…..I have lost my faith and my trust…..I cannot keep letting him do what he wants, its changing who I am

    thanks for listening …thats what I really needed…to ashamed to talk to anyone else about it

  12. I Have been in a relationship with someone for over 6 years. Last December my gf sister moved to our city from a small town. We were excited about her coming but when I met her sister for the 1st time I was told she didn’t want to like me but did. At her sister’s home for a Christmas party I was admittedly rude last year and wanted to apologize the next day. Her sister wouldn’t talk to me which was fine give her time to cool down. Now 12 months later she is literally trying to drive a wedge in our relationship. She refuses to attend any family events when I am in attendance like Thanksgiving and Christmas and even went so far as to say I am never allowed around her recently born child. I have a child who does look at the sister like family and recently I found out that her sister said some extremely innapropriate things to my child. My gf does not like confrontation and has allowed this to fester and grow for 12 months and doesn’t know how to speak to her sister about the issue. What should we do? Is anything salvageable because I am deeply in love with my gf and want to do what is right.

    • Hey there. It totally sounds like your heart is in the right place – seeking to right your wrong is very commendable, and not easy. This is a tough one. You cannot force someone to listen to you, and clearly she has no intent to allow you to speak with her. She seems pretty determined to be against you and that may be something you have to deal with. Although, if she is saying inappropriate things to your child, your job as a father is to protect and you need to be wise about allowing them to be in the same vicinity together. Children are very impressionable, I’m sure you already know this well. Maybe try writing a letter to her? Hand written. Give it to someone who can give it to her, or mail it to her. In my life, I also pray. I ask God to keep my heart soft and correct any bitterness in my heart, and I pray for an opportunity to right the wrong. I pray for the other person’s heart of stone to begin to soften. Good luck my friend.

  13. I have a very difficult roommate and I attempt to be he honest with her in the nicest way possible. She breaks items of mine and causes me much stress when my focus she be on more important things. She borrows things without asking. All I have asked is that she asks me permission. I have repeated this many times to her and it’s like it doesn’t sink in with her. She doesn’t take it as a joke but she doesn’t accept my wishes and follow them. I find it very difficult to confront her (again) since I have done so numerous times in the past. How do I put this to bed once and for all without moving? I like where I am and I shouldn’t have to move because of someone else ruining my happiness. I know for a fact we were raised very differenltly but I have exaggerated my point several times and now I’m just left with anger. What do I do?

  14. I try not to have any serious conversations with my mother. She loves confrontation. She’s bipolar. She doesn’t work. She has a dysfunctional marriage. She was told not to come back to several church groups because of her behavior. She doesn’t take correction from our pastor. I don’t think its worth it to confront her. I think she is a hypocrite and needs a different psychiatrist to adjust her antipsychotic medication. I don’t like being around her. I’m an adult but I have younger sisters who I want to have relationships with so I can’t completely avoid my parents. What should I do? If anything?

  15. I struggle with this issue more recently. Its not as if Im afraid to be confrontative its that I have a history of being confrontative often in a negative way than a positive way. I struggle to control my temper with others when I see clear injustice, because I grew up in an abusive home and comming out of it in my late teens I swore to myself that I would never tolerate such a thing in my life again or be a part of someone elses abuse or be a slient witness. Right now my husband and I live with his parents, due to my being unemployed. They are extremely generous with us which we are very grateful of. However since moving in with them we have both noticed how incredibly verbally abusive my mother in law is to my father in law. What infuriates me is that I feel she gets away with it and my husbands family tolerate it as just ‘one of those things’. Blah de blah. What angers me is that, if my father in law were to say the same things in the same awful way as she does but at her then the whole family will be up at arms and would encourage her to kick him out and do some kind of ultimatum. But because its a woman doing it to a man its ok or ‘less bad’? I speak to my my husband about it often enough because sometimes the level of abuse that I hear is too much for me to handle and it digs up terrible memories just for me alone about what I went through and it builds up a resentment against my husband for his apparent apathy and against my mother in law (whom I do love). My husband has told me to speak up against his Mom if I wish and I have written multiple letters to her explaining how her actions and words make ME feel, all of which never get sent. I would love to confront her in gentleness and love but I know to do so will dredge up ancient issues that I know are the core reason why she acts the way she does – bitterness and self righteousness. Argh. At the end of the day I really truly think my husband should be the one to do it because its HIS parents not mine but I guess that could sound like a cop out. At the end of the day nothing gets said and I feel like a coward. *Sigh.

  16. A friends attitude changed when it was decided that a group run by us both – her for sewing etc , me papercrafting , should meet at different times due to lack of space. It was purely for logistic reasons.
    Up until this point we had been good friends even tho she had a tendency to bully and be superior. The changes did not affect her group in fact it should only benefit it. My group moved to another day. Sadly this has caused a huge rift as she feels that she should have been consulted. She started ignoring me and refusing to answer when I spoke to her, to the point that I have had to leave gatherings rather than cause a scene.
    I contacted her and told her how uncomfortable she made. me feel.
    She responded with a list of bullet points that amounted to terms and conditions or she could not be my friend. I did not bother to respond.
    This has now escalated to the point where the commitee has become involved and we are being called in to sort the problem out.
    It is beginning to feel like I am about to be court martialled as she has a higher standing in the organisation than me.
    Any advice on how to deal with this would be welcomed as I am already dealing with a recent messy divorce ( he was an alcoholic and an abuser ). which has caused depression etc. for which I am receiving counselling at a women’s abuse centre.
    I want this sorted for everyone’s sake.

  17. I have never been able to confront other women. I feel there’s an unwritten rule that all women are afraid of confrontation. I grew up with 7brothers and no sisters, abd few females in my life. My friendships always end as I never stand up for myself, because I have always been looked at as angry, since females just do not confront. They just exclude me and drop me as a friend. Any advice?

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