positively confrontational

I don’t know why confrontation is always thought of as negative.

That’s a lie.

I know exactly why. It’s because confrontation is uncomfortable.

I used to be a very non-confrontational (and therefore very passive aggressive and deeply self-conscious) person. I was constantly having to read between the lines of what friends and coworkers were saying. I was jumping to (often incorrect) conclusions about how others felt about me. I was not telling anyone how I really felt. I finally got fed up with the constant anxiety, and decided I really needed to be more open with others so that they could be open with me. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my quest:

1. Confrontation can be positive.

You don’t have to  go in swinging. Being willing to confront a difficult issue with someone — rather than letting it fester and destroy your relationship — is an act of love. So do it lovingly. Be calm, respectful, and honest.

2.  It doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

It can be (and much of the time SHOULD be) a short and to-the-point conversation. There’s no getting around that fact that confrontation is uncomfortable — why drag it out?

3. You’ll feel better afterward.

Even though the conversation may be hard, inevitably I feel about a thousand times lighter after it’s done (provided I haven’t gone in swinging or drawn it out far longer than necessary). We avoid these conversations to spare ourselves the discomfort, but I’ve found that living with the unspoken tension is often far less comfortable than simply having the talk.

4. Not everything needs to be confronted.

SURPRISE! Didn’t see that one coming from Miss Confrontational, did you? It’s true, and I actually feel pretty strongly about it. When you get in the habit of confronting important issues and begin to reap the benefits of having open relationships and getting things off your chest in a healthy way, you may find yourself addicted to confrontation. Be careful. Before you put yourself (and your unsuspecting friend) through a difficult conversation, be sure that you are asking yourself: is this worth making a fuss over? Trust me on this one. I’ve learned the hard way.


As an exercise, next time your friend makes a passive aggressive remark, try calling him out on it and see how it goes. My prediction? He’ll be embarrassed, sure, but he’ll also probably tell you what’s actually wrong. Suddenly you will have opened up a previously clogged line of communication simply because you cared enough to ask.

Here’s an even more challenging exercise: call yourself out next time you make a self-deprecating joke.

Confronting yourself can be just as uncomfortable — and just as important — as confronting anyone else.


NOTE: I have gone over and over this piece. I even posted it once, and then immediately deleted it. I’ve just had the hardest time bringing myself to share it with you, which seems particularly ironic in a post about openness. The truth is, I felt guilty for sharing it because not all of these ideas are totally original to me, and I struggled with how to properly credit those who have taught me. So, I will calm my conscience by being open about the fact that I’ve learned none of this in a vacuum.

I have learned from friends, coworkers, bosses, books, and my own mistakes (and some successes!). I’d be happy to recommend a plethora of reading material and wise people for you to talk to, if interested.


4 thoughts on “positively confrontational

  1. I love it! Also, regarding #5… paraphrasing from Traction by Gino Wickman: You only have 3 options when dealing with any issue; live with it, end it, or change it. If you choose to live with it, then you have to choose to stop complaining about it. If you decide it’s not worth ending or changing, decide to live with it and embrace your decision– no more churning over it.

  2. Moving to Nashville last year, and living and working with many headstrong and forthright people with whom I care about preserving strong relationships, has forced me to implement a level of comfort with confrontation I have never achieved before on a daily basis. I find myself now (mostly) unafraid to broach important matters with those concerned. Note the word “important.” My sister said it best with the age old adage, “pick your battles.”

    1. Yesss! Wise words! “Pick your battles.” It’s so important not to get over-zealous with problem solving, I think. Otherwise we just become a exhausting, nit-picky people.

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