OVERCOMING MY FEAR OF CONFRONTATION

I’ve been feeling a little overdue for a more personal post around here, so today I’m sharing a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past couple years. It’s something that I’ve struggled with consistently in my adult life and I imagine it’s affected some of you at one point or another, and that is the fear of confrontation. Over the past year or two, I’ve been making small strides towards speaking up for myself and it’s made such a difference in my life that I think it’s high time I talk about it here.

*original post

(Just have to say I can’t stop laughing at this wholly unrelated outfit picture because every other article on the internet about overcoming a fear of confrontation is riddled with absurd stock photos and I literally found myself going through my archives trying to find something more relevant but shockingly couldn’t come up with a photo where I’m having a tearful heart-to-heart with a loved one so here we are. 🙃 ANYWAY!)

I’ve often joked in the past that I was allergic to confrontation. There are several situations I can count on to trigger my social anxiety, but nothing makes me more anxious than having to tell someone they’ve hurt my feelings, no matter how justified I think those feelings are. Whether it’s having a tough conversation with a girlfriend or even responding to a stranger on the internet, a situation that calls for direct confrontation never fails to induce total panic (complete with racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.).

Historically I’ve often resorted to venting to my mom or husband about something that’s bothering me, instead of proactively addressing the issue and effecting real change in the situation. And while venting can be temporarily helpful for blowing off steam, avoiding confrontation ultimately just lets problems fester and resentment grow. A couple years ago, it really hit me that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by avoiding confrontation in the name of keeping the peace. In fact I was causing myself inner turmoil and undue stress, while the other person or people involved had no way of knowing how I was feeling. And how absolutely not peaceful is that?

And so I realized that my avoid-conflict-at-all-costs mentality was actually doing me more harm than good. Instead of having one hard conversation and putting an issue to bed, I found myself going out of my way to avoid seeing certain people. I would give myself permission to opt out of potentially difficult situations and, perhaps worse, I would make myself a doormat or a punching bag in others. It really took me getting to a point where I was making myself miserable trying to avoid difficult conversations to realize that confrontation could be not only completely healthy but completely necessary as well.

I’ve overcome this fear of confrontation several times in the past couple years: letting go of a difficult employee, telling a family member how they’d repeatedly hurt my feelings, and course-correcting a couple friendships that had been bringing me more angst than joy. In every instance I’ve had to battle that feeling of panic and trust that things could only improve if I started speaking up for myself. Each time I have a conversation that I would have avoided like the plague in previous years, I feel like a giant weight has been lifted. I certainly don’t enjoy confrontation (and still find myself avoiding it from time to time), but finding my voice in these moments has been both freeing and empowering.

Here are a few things that have helped me overcome my fear of confrontation, but I would love to hear anything that’s worked for you in the comments. First and foremost, I remind myself that the only way out of a stressful situation is through it — avoiding conflict never eliminates the problem. Next I talk the situation through with someone I love and trust (again usually my mom or husband) before I have the conversation with the person I actually need to address. I also think about the best timing for a tough conversation; for me, it’s usually as soon as possible so it’s not hanging over my head, but not so soon that I’m running high on emotions — a cool head is a must for resolving conflict. Then when it’s go time, I just take a deep breath and do the best I can to express how I’m feeling before hearing the other person out. I’m not sure there’s a perfect process or a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to confrontation, but I will say I’m always more at peace having addressed an issue than I had been while I was avoiding it. 

Overcoming my fear of confrontation is less a singular milestone and more an ongoing process, but I’ve tackled it enough times now to know that life is better with a handful of few-and-far-between tough conversations than it is with a mission to avoid conflict at all costs. If you take one or two things away from this post, I hope it’s knowing that it’s never too late to start improving a weakness and that you are so worth sticking up for. Please continue the conversation in the comments if you’ve faced your own fear of confrontation — I know I for one still have a lot to learn!

P.S. In the same vein as this more personal post, a letter to my 18-year-old self and losing luggage and gaining perspective.

20 thoughts on “OVERCOMING MY FEAR OF CONFRONTATION

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  1. Well-said, Mackenzie! I think it also helps to remember that it’s about being honest with the other person in the relationship – and in most cases, they would want to know when something is bothering you. Here’s to honesty and speaking up and working through things!

  2. I find when there needs to be confrontation that I find something to say that is agreeable or true
    for both sides as an intro into the subject…it somehow shows a gentleness that can lead into what you would like to interject….confrontation does not have to mean that only one side is correct although at ties that is true.
    For instance…I can say “I understand what you or saying or how you must feel…let me me make sure that I really do understand correctly” and perhaps restate their side…
    then I would continue ” I would like for you to understand what I feel, or believe, etc and why so that even if we agree to disagree…we understand each other correctly”

    I appreciate what you are saying…in our current society it is important to confront wisely and kindly and stand up for ourselves as well as others.

  3. I’m so glad that you shared this–I’m the worst at confrontation and am going to put these tips to use!

    A method I learned for friends and loved ones (or even people you HAVE TO have a relationship with like work acquaintances is the IDEAL model:
    Identify to yourself what bothers you, Describe to the other person what bothers you. Explain why it bothers you to the other person Ask the the other person to make specific changes, and (the most important part!) List the ways in which this change will benefit BOTH fo you. I find that last part is a total game-changer.

    Hope we both get better at this!

  4. A great post, Mackenzie! It’s something that I’ve also struggled with my whole life. The last couple of years, I’ve been working hard to stand up for myself and tackle these tough situations head on. A couple of things that I learned:

    -Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to keep the peace and appease people, they just won’t be satisfied. So don’t relinquish your own feelings and needs in the hopes that it will make someone else happy.

    -Unfortunately, not everyone is receptive to hearing you out. When they are, it’s great and you should definitely work through the issue, no matter how uncomfortable. But sometimes, the other person really doesn’t care how you feel and isn’t interested in understanding your POV. I used to beat my head against a wall in those situations, and now I’ve learned to cut my losses and walk away from them. Not always easy. Though you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make it drink.

    Finally, I like the photo you selected. It projects confidence, and after all, isn’t that what we gain when we learn to respect and speak up for ourselves?

  5. Thank you for sharing! I am with you 100% (until you suggested confronting things haha).
    In my last career I had no choice but to deal with confrontation (employees, customers, etc) but now that I’m no longer working in management I avoid it at all costs. Its gotten so bad that I get anxious making easy phone calls. My boss once told me I’m an avoider and I just responded “You’re right.”
    Proud of you for tackling this fear and I hope to one day soon feel empowered to do the same.

  6. Thank you, McKenzie! What a great post and such good advice. Kudos to you for putting this into writing for all of us to think about!

    By the way, I have just discovered you via Instagram. Love your posts!

  7. omg your post is everything!! I think almost (if not every0ne) can relate to that and those are some good tips u gave there. thank u. and I appreciate your honesty . 🙂

  8. Hi Mackenzie— thank you for such a thoughtful discussion of this topic! I also have a tough relationship with confrontation.
    For my professional life: it’s not only routine but essential that I face confrontation head-on (but I try to be elegant in all ways too!) I try to do it in the “lean in” fashion Sheryl Sandburg described in her book: with a big smile on my face. If I don’t do it, patients can be gravely harmed, and I have accepted this as an essential part of running an ICU.
    In my personal life— that’s where it gets tricky. I tend to nurture people to an extreme (sounds like you may do this too). I don’t have a great answer there, in particular with friendships. I want to please so much that I’ve found myself needing a course correction (love your term!), and feeling sick over it.
    One big however: I now ask myself…. is this person/relationship worth me getting so worked up over? Sometimes that is the answer: /allowing/ myself to just let go. If the continuation will not serve me, and the person has repeatedly not been good to me, why am I killing myself to find a way to confront them? I am slowly learning to walk away, no explanation/reply needed, without feeling guilty about it. Not everyone/everything deserves your passion (passion in a good or bad way.) Can’t say it’s been super easy doing this— but easier than beating myself up about needing closure, or giving honor/time/emotion to someone.

    Not sure if that’s something you can relate to, but wanted to share something personal since you did too 🙂 sorry if this is a long reply— I really admire you taking a stance on your blog! (back when I was on Snapchat under my nickname “bunny” I wrote to you to express thanks when you took part in the women’s march).
    Hope to continue our conversation, and have a great day,
    Mama, M.D.

  9. I hate it as well or disappointing people in any way. I find picking up the phone once you are calm and having a real honest conversation helps. Communication is key and avoiding communication can lead to more anxiety. I’d rather nip it in the bud though so I can sleep better and stop worrying!

  10. Oh man, this is me to a T. It’s the worst! I think I was always the “peacemaker” in the family, so have always avoided it like the plague.

    That said, it does get somewhat easier with age (or time), but your proactive steps are inspiring. It’s tough though, for sure.

  11. I don’t enjoy confrontation at all (I’m not sure anyone truly does?), but I have found I have become much more confident when standing up for myself more recently. I like the feeling of putting myself first, especially when I feel someone is potentially trying to take advantage of me whether they realize it or not. I do the same things you do when I’m preparing to confront someone, especially talking to my mom. The one thing I do is I actually talk things through out loud when I’m by myself as if I’m preparing to give a speech. It lets me hear what I want to say to someone and prepare to say it rather than just thinking things through in my mind. I also always remind myself to kill ’em with kindness because so often people go into these situations ready to yell back and go on the defensive. Good for you for speaking up for yourself!

  12. Thank you for this post and the good tips. I too struggle with confrontation so much that I tend to procrastinate on it even though I’m the type to usually want to take care of things and get them over with.

  13. Totally agree, I’ve spent a lot of time avoiding confrontation of all kinds, and learning to speak up for myself. Part of what helped me, which seems dumb and trivial, was to start approaching aspects of my life like Ann would. Most men wouldn’t balk at asking for a raise or flagging unfair expectations, so I shouldn’t either. In my personal life, it’s been harder, but I’ve worked hard to let people know that my confrontation is coming from a place of love, not because I want to pick a fight. It also helps me to literally rehearse ahead of time what I plan to say. That way I make sure to get out everything I wanted to discuss, and know how it feels to say the words. Keep it up!!

  14. Firstly Yay you for recognizing and taking steps! Secondly, thank you for directing here via Insta post, and thirdly, one of the best tools for avoiding confrontation I have is only to use the word “sorry” when I truly am, rather than in an everyday setting eg: “I’m so sorry, could you pass me the salt?” “Sorry to disturb you, but could we go over this report?” This word automatically infers deference or puts you second, which can lead to resentment and setting a pattern in a personal or professional relationship that ultimately leads to unresolved conflict. I’m not saying never apologize – we all make mistakes and should recognize and make amends when we do, but I try not to live apologetically!

  15. Hi Mackenzie! I also REALLY struggle with confrontations. A mentor in grad school (that I had avoided because I did not want to tell her for several months that I was struggling with finishing up our research) gently suggested the book “Crucial Conversations”. It’s only like $10 on amazon, and really helped me with confrontations and other difficult conversations! I would highly recommend it!

  16. Good for you! Gosh it can be so hard to be vulnerable, can’t it? A resource that has been tremendously helpful to me are Brene Brown’s books, lectures and TedTalks, She really breaks down the mental constructs of shame and fear in way that makes them not so intimidating and isolating 🙂