Hate Confrontation? Try These 5 Therapist-Approved Tactics

Keep your relationships intact after tough discussions.

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Dealing with interpersonal issues can be tricky—especially when it comes to resolving problems. If you have difficulty speaking your mind or a fear of rocking the boat, your first inclination might be to stay mum and bury things deep inside. However, there can be health benefits to talking things out.

"Clearing the air can help relieve stress and tension," says Racine Henry, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in New York City. What's more, having the conversation itself can be more important than its result, Dr. Henry adds. That's because whether they're with your partner, your boss or someone else, confrontations give people a better understanding of how others prefer to be treated. "Avoiding confrontation and not communicating when your feelings are hurt mainly teach the other person that it is acceptable to keep treating you in a way you don't like," she says.

If confronting someone makes you uneasy, try these tactics to get over your fears.

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1. Weigh the pros and cons of speaking up

If you’re not used to speaking your mind, it can be easy to convince yourself it’s better to stay silent. You may fear a negative reaction or be conditioned by previous incidents. “Early childhood experiences with volatile parents and experiences of emotional, physical or mental abuse could cause a fear of confrontation,” says Henry. "Not only will our trauma be triggered, we may also be further traumatized by new experiences of confrontation."

If you're afraid of confrontation, remind yourself that being assertive and standing up for yourself is not a bad thing. "Nobody else needs to validate or confirm your feelings for you," she adds. "Your opinion is valuable and how another person impacts you is worth processing."

Try this: Write a list of what you stand to gain versus what you stand to lose by speaking up. Laying things out can make plain what you have on the line, clarify your reasoning for initiating the confrontation and help usher in a resolution.

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2. Decide your preferred outcome

“To prepare for a confrontation, the most important first step is to think about your end goal,” says Henry. Figuring out what you want will help clear issues like how and when to approach the person. Consider the following:

  • Are you seeking an apology?
  • Do you simply want to get something off your chest?
  • Would you like to cut ties completely?

Your desired outcome might mean only an email or text will suffice, while a face-to-face conversation might be best in other circumstances. "For a face-to-face confrontation, decide whether you prefer to have it out in public or private," she says. "You can write down what you want to say and even practice the confrontation with someone you trust." Once you've decided what you want, you can offer an invitation to talk, or simply speak your mind through the medium you feel is best.

Consider, too, that the confrontation may not go as planned: "If you find the courage to confront this person and they react in a negative way, how will you be able to heal?"

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3. Be clear and try I-statements

Once you decide to confront someone, be straightforward. "The best approach is to be honest and open to the other person's feedback," says Henry. "Use clear statements that help you express how you feel and what you think needs to change or be fixed."

"I" statements can help you do that. When you use an "I" statement during a confrontation, it means you frame your argument in terms of how you feel ("I feel overworked and stressed out when there's a mess. I would love help cleaning up.") versus what the other person did wrong ("You’re so messy! You think I’m your maid!”). Essentially, "I" statements avoid putting the other person on the defense. They articulate your unmet needs without pointing fingers, aiding communication and, eventually, resolution. "A relationship can be strengthened by an honest conversation about things that have transpired because both people are on the same page," says Henry.

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4. Keep calm and carry on

Many of us fear arguing because of lack of control over the situation, the other person’s potential reaction and our own emotions. "We avoid confrontation either because we have trouble handling conflict or because we don't trust ourselves to control the intensity of our anger and/or reaction," says Henry.

So, it’s important when trying to resolve a conflict to stay as calm and rational as possible. Avoid cursing, name-calling and insults, which can leave lasting wounds and stall resolutions. “If a person feels insulted, they stop listening and nothing gets accomplished," says Henry. "If you care about the relationship or the person, don’t be mean."

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5. Check in and process what happened

Once you've executed your plan, you may have mixed emotions. Space might be needed on both sides, so be sure to give the other person time to process what transpired; don’t try to force further conversations before the both of you are ready. And if you need to vent, try to speak to third party—a trusted friend or even a professional—to express these feelings. You can locate a therapist using the Find a Doctor tool on Sharecare, available on iOS or Android.

Regardless of the outcome, Henry reminds that getting over your fear of confrontation is a big feat no matter what happens. “Celebrate yourself for doing a hard thing that you could have avoided altogether.”

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