Do you confront people? If so, how? I was recently asked to share some thoughts for an article by Vivian Manning-Schaffel, but the site seeking the piece is now defunct. But I say we confront the adversity by letting the interview live on. Below I present Vivian's questions and my answers, finding a new home here:
VM-S: Confrontation is seldom easy or fun. But sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Why do we make excuses to avoid confrontation?
RH: That's a good motivation question. Most theories of motivation are a re-branding of the "seek pleasure/avoid pain" staple. In the case of avoiding confrontation, it's safe to say it's about avoiding some potential pain. For example:
What’s the best way to go about getting something off of your chest if you’re nervous about clearing the air? What’s the best way to psyche yourself into it?
RH: For the pure psych up, I’d recommend focusing on the “honesty is the best policy” mantra. Relationships generally work better if all the cards are out on the table. It might get messy for a while, but if you stick to your point, back it up with evidence, are willing to take responsibility for your role in the conflict, and view winning as relational cohesion rather than an actual winner/loser outcome, it generally works in the long run.
I’ve heard two other sayings that help people psych themselves up. The first is, “Let people feel the weight of your words and deal with it.” This makes a confrontation a noble deed that, if avoided, is a disservice to the other. The other saying is, “He’s a big boy; he can take care of himself.” If you’re afraid of damaging the other with your opinion, this can help remind you of the other person’s resilience.
Overall, you need to know that getting something off your chest is better for you and your health in the long run. Psychological and medical research is filled with data supporting the idea that holding a grudge has negative long-term consequences. It’s better to endure five minutes of stress than months or years of resentment.
What’s the best reason to clear the air if your inclination is to sweep the issue under the rug? And what’s the best approach to take?
RH: The most important reason is the deep psychological one: You matter, your opinion matters, and having a voice is worth a little discomfort for you and those around you. For people who struggle with self-esteem concerns, this is a difficult challenge to embrace. For those with too much self-esteem, maybe you have the opposite problem of bulldozing others and not taking the time to listen. But here I'm speaking to the conflict-avoidant, and the truth is, sweeping things under the rug doesn’t work. Even if you are able to keep the complaint under wraps, you will likely seek other ways to relieve the stress or numb the pain—with food, medication (or drinking or drugs), passive aggression, or other means. Not confronting doesn't mean the problem goes away; it's just buried inside causing a host of physical, psychological, and relational problems. That's why I recommend you find a way to just say it.
Using "I"statements ("I feel ___ when you do ___, therefore I'd like ____") is often helpful, as you're talking about your experience and feelings rather than jumping into attack mode and putting the recipient on the defensive.
Some people also find the “sandwich approach” helpful.
In this technique, you sandwich a negative comment between two positive ones. Rather than, “I don’t like your taste in music,” you might say, “I love the fact you are such a fan of music; so am I. I wonder if we might listen to a wider variety to broaden our tastes, because I really like listening to music together and want to continue in the future.” It’s a little corny, but people are more open to the medicine when it’s wrapped in sugar. (This approach is not loved by everyone.)
Sometimes, you can’t help but experience residual bad feelings even after you’ve shared them, or even received an apology. Or maybe we’ve downplayed the true depth of our feelings and haven’t honestly expressed our emotions as we should have. What if you’ve already said you’re fine with a situation, and really thought you were, but then discover nagging feelings that indicate that you aren’t? What’s the healthiest course of action?
RH: I think you’ve got to say it again, but take responsibility for not saying everything correctly the first time. Confrontations are unpleasant for the other person, too, and this should be acknowledged. Say something like, “I know I brought this up before, and I hate to do it again, but I left a few things out. I meant to add ______. Thanks for hearing me out again, and I’ll try to include everything at once next time.” And then actually do this next time. If you want to keep an audience for your complaints, you owe it to them to get to the point.