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Courteous Confrontation

Dearest Reader,

As you may already well know, one of my favorite pass-times is enjoying a cup of freshly brewed coffee with a friend while listening to them talk about the current events of their life. If there's room left in the conversation for it, I like to provide feedback in the form of either affirmation or confrontation.

To be quite honest, my "dream job" is to become a life coach. Not the kind you see in a Disney Channel movie where there are sappy words shared and the protagonist has this sudden potential to become the best they can be.

I mean the kind who will tell it to you straight, providing feedback your negative inner voice won't allow you to accept on the hard days. To affirm your abilities and aspirations, while simultaneously kicking you in the rear end of your pants to get after what you talk of doing and advise you on how I think you can get it done.

Oh, but remember I also really enjoy the occasional opportunity to confront a friend on their B.S.

Why? Well, for starters let's review the following to get a better understanding of where where I'll be coming from in this post:

  • I'm a strong believer that saying something is way better than leaving those words left unsaid.

  • I have an aversion toward passive aggressive behavior and find that similar to not showing the other person enough respect (however, I'm not a saint (what?!) and I do this from time to time when I want to "help" someone stay out of my downward spiral of anxiety...#goKimber)

  • I feel that the "phony kindness" (different than genuine kindness) we use in an attempt to resolve conflict actually fuels the flame of argumentative and distant behaviors

  • I strive to "fix" things; whether it's a relationship or my planner. People and daily tasks need to get organized and ready for what's next.

It is because of these perspectives I hold dear that I want to talk about why the effects of pursuing confrontation in a courteous manner outweighs avoiding the potential conflict altogether.

We often treat this topic as a "no crossing zone". It's uncharted territory that we don't dare get into for the sake of our pride, fear of deep emotion or lack of permission to cross the line between poor and rich relationships. There's no shame in any of this - we don't see or have many great experience with this so why dive into those waters?

Words are hard. Especially when having to form the right ones to tell someone you care about something they might cringe at hearing (who offers to be the bearer of bad but honest news? Almost no-one). However, confrontation gets it's bad reputation from those who get bitter or angry at someone else who most likely didn't know better, and therefore, we avoid it.

So where do we go from here...

Since this can go a lot of different ways, I want to focus on four areas of confrontation that can drive us into better conversations with fruitful results:

1. Who does it apply to?

Be cautious with who you choose to confront. Before jumping into any confrontational conversation, consider the relationship you have with the person you're considering talking to. Note: if there is no relationship whatsoever (e.g. someone flipped you off on the freeway), best not to waste your precious energy on anger there.

Ask yourself: Has this person shown up as a safe person to talk to in the past? For example, when you chat about general topics over lunch or have even brought up personal difficulties, were they supportive? Did they provide wise counsel or act as a friend ought to? Or did they selfishly spin the conversation toward themselves, leave you feeling worse about the present circumstances and yourself, or drag you down in order to glorify themselves? These are important questions to ask because if you were to confront someone who has not provided a safe space for you to share your views, life events and questions, they will be more likely to disregard and shut down what you are saying to them when you confront them on any given issue. You're more than free to do so anyways, but from personal experience, if both parties are not willing to listen (key to a conversation that involves confrontation), there's no room for growth.

In general, the persons to which these kind of conversations are best had with are significant others (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend), close friends, family members who are active in your life, and colleagues (or persons you work and interact with on a daily/weekly basis). Each of these groups have a common factor in that they highly affect your day-to-day through your interactions with them.

2) Why does talking about [fill in the blank] matter?

You need to have a strong why before starting the conversation. Are you just hoping to get your aggressive opinion out because someone disagreed with you on that great idea during last week's meeting in front of your boss and it hurt your pride? Step back, you're probably headed the wrong direction here.

That's not a strong why because the premise of it lies on a shallow factor. Your why needs to be based on a more solid ground than your reputation. Don't be petty, Susan.

Things to ask yourself when establishing your why:

Will it provide this person an opportunity for growth? Will I be better for it after discussing with them one-on-one? Will it give room for them to give their say? Is it going to strengthen our relationship in the long-run or will it cause more damage?

Another thing to consider is whether or not you're doing it out of self righteousness. Hear me out: this is not the same as "self-care". If you were hurt or burdened with something that was said or done toward you, your why is gravitated toward who you are, and who you are matters. End of story. The way you go about confronting someone? We'll get to that, don't you worry.

3) What kind of narrative am I telling myself about this conversation?

Ya'll, when have our doubts, fears and assumptions ever done us any good?

Let me tell you: never. Now allow me to go into a minor rant about how assumptions and negative narratives can steer us in the wrong direction when it comes to confrontation.

Fact: the type of narrative we decide to write determines how we approach the conversation.

We cannot allow the assumptions we plot on the other person's reaction to prevent us from saying what needs to be said.


Giving them the opportunity to understand what frustrated you, rather than assuming they know and they're the bad guys for not telling you they know what you know, is a courtesy that isn't given enough. They can't read your mind. so don't punish them for it.

Calm down with the the fears that tell you it's best to leave it alone, or it's not your place, or that you would make things worse because you'll offend them.

Sure, you might suck at it.

Or you can provide feedback they would probably never get otherwise.

When we assume the worst will come of anything, we automatically give ourselves permission to respond or act out in that way, therefore justifying our beliefs and giving truth to our doubts.

You guys, confrontation is not all bad.

It's not always a fight.

It's not meant to be some drama filled conversation unless one or both parties make it that way.

In reality, it's worse to leave it alone than it is to talk about it.

4) How can I deliver my words with courtesy and caution, not judgement?

In order to have a fruitful conversation that is driven by a well intentioned heart, there needs to be a change in our perspective of the word "confrontation".

It'd do us a lot of good to start seeing confrontation as a courtesy to others and not as a cause of conflict. It is what you make it, remember?

Once we shift our perspective, our approach to it will follow suit (with practice, of course).

When asked in a recent poll if people were either all for confrontation or prefer to avoid it, a majority voted for the latter. As human beings, we have the tendency to run away from what has the potential to produce more hurt than healing. It's a defensive tactic.

But what would happen if we shifted our mindset to acknowledge that confrontation has potential for good?

More honest conversations would happen. Challenges would be faced head on rather than avoided. The hard things would get done sooner, and anxiety levels would drop faster.

Okay, so when it comes to approaching someone you either want to or have to be around with what's been heavy on your heart in a "courteous fashion", where do we start? Let's consider the following:

1) How does this person receive this kind of information. Do they need to be in a setting like a coffee shop to have their full attention? Is it necessary to have another person involved to make sure they're getting the point?

2) The other person's perspective. Are you aware of their stance on what you're bringing to light, or is it brand new information? Maybe they've mentioned how the one thing you're confronting them on has been a struggle for them to work on. If you have no idea where they stand, walk in with an open mind. Don't be hard headed in your approach. In other words, don't be mad at someone for not knowing what they don't know.

3) Tone and Timing. Tone is a tough one for me. If I'm not careful, I sound pretty aggressive with my monotone-man-voice and RBF. That said, we should not just check ourselves in our tone of voice, but in our physical approach (so, don't walk up arms crossed, furrowed brow saying "hey man, what the heck is wrong with you?"). It's just as important to keep in mind when to have the discussion. Is it their birthday? Best not to confront them during their party. Are they on their period? Don't bother. Pick a time and place where both of you will feel confident in the conversation. You want to be as comfortable as can be (but not too comfortable - ain't nobody going to pay attention if you take them to Disneyland for this).

When we avoid these discussions out of fear or discomfort, we risk missing out on some of life's best relationships and personal growth opportunities (I accept full responsibility for how cheesy this sounds).

Confrontational conversations have incredible potential for fruitful relationships. Sure, sometimes we flunk and leave ourselves to look like fools when we're just trying to help a friend out.

But hey, if all of our attempts made were good, would there really be any good results?

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