The Importance of Confrontation for Interpersonal Relationships

Samantha Ventura | Jul 01, 2019

I used to lead a workshop on confrontation that was targeted for the business owner. One of the first questions I would pose to attendees was “Do any of you enjoy confrontation?” I would typically get a resounding “NO!” This wasn’t surprising to me, and probably isn’t surprising to you, either. Yet these men and women were the leaders in their organizations. I began to wonder; if they weren’t comfortable confronting people, how was conflict at the highest level being dealt with?

Confrontation is defined as, “a hostile or argumentative meeting or situation between opposing parties.” This definition suggests that to confront is to engage in something that will result in an unpleasant exchange between you and someone else. Doesn’t sound like much fun, and in fact, sounds like something most of us would choose to avoid — and we do.

However, I want to challenge the view most of us have about confrontation and shed some light on how confrontation in work and personal relationships can actually be a good thing. Confrontation in our interpersonal relationships has a much different meaning than what we typically associate the term with. In our relationships, when we confront, we are actually choosing to be direct and transparent about how we are feeling. When we choose to actively deal with someone about something, we are acknowledging that we care enough about that other person to take the time to work on whatever has been bothering us. Why is this important? Each time you are willing to openly discuss something with another person, you allow a degree of transparency and intimacy to occur, strengthening the very foundation of the relationship just from the act of simple conversation.
Conversely, the longer you avoid talking with someone about something that has been bothering you, the more you solidify misconceptions, hard feelings, and the overall unhappiness within the relationship. In fact, by not confronting, you often leave yourself feeling much worse than if you had just dealt with the issue from the beginning. So, what are some of the ways you can begin to be better at confronting people in your own life?
  1. Always start with respect. In fact, if you are angry, wait until you have calmed down before addressing a concern. We tend to lead conversations with aggression when we are angry, and doing that is counter-productive to making the situation better. Kindness matters, so start with a gentle approach.
  2. The absolute best approach is a one-on-one discussion; if you cannot have the conversation in person, don’t choose to avoid the confrontation altogether. Put a time on your calendar that you will email that person, respectfully, about how you are feeling. Hold yourself accountable to following through with your message.
  3. Give someone time to respond when you tell them how you are feeling. After you have brought up the issue, let them have a chance to explain how they are feeling without interrupting or trying to defend yourself. You can always say, “Thank you for bringing that up. I do want to talk about that as well; let’s finish this topic first then come back to that later, or even tomorrow.”
  4. Stick to the issue(s) at hand and never bring in hearsay or problems you have heard about from others. You are sharing the concerns you have and are not there to be the voice for someone else. People tend to feel you are ganging up on them when you bring in other people’s issues, and it is not appropriate when you are confronting someone one-on-one.
  5. Bring a solution with you. Offer what you feel might be a good compromise or solution to help solve the issue. Ask them what they think about it, and if you can’t come to immediate agreement, ask them to mull it over a bit, and let them know that you will follow up in a day or two.
At the heart of who we are, we want to belong. The idea that we may say something that causes someone to not like us, view us differently, or might “rock the boat” makes us feel hesitant to bring something up in the first place. Confronting someone respectfully and with purpose allows them to explain their thought process, or even how they are feeling. This moves the relationship in a positive, more openly communicative direction. Mastering the skill of confrontation is very important for your growth as a leader.
Likewise, be open to someone approaching you with an issue they have had as well. Your willingness to be approachable is one of the top soft skills you can employ to keep your relationships healthy and successful. Allowing issues to fester is not good for you, or the person you are secretly upset with. When we seek to communicate with others about how we feel, we show them that our relationship with them is valued and worth the time and energy we are putting into it. Leaders, make the commitment to work through your nervousness with confrontation, utilize some of the suggestions here, and I promise you even the most challenging relationships in your life will get better.