5 Ways to Overcome a Fear of Confrontation

fear of confrontation

“This above all; to thine own self be true.” – William Shakespeare

I am so non-confrontational that the thought of saying anything to anyone that might rub them the wrong way has always given me instant anxiety.

I have suffered from this syndrome of wanting to keep the peace at all costs since childhood. And now that I am just a couple of years shy of 50, I am really sick and tired of carrying around this burden of having to keep the peace.

I want to speak my truth!

Since I have been acting the other way—I mean, hiding my truth—for the greater part of my life, it’s not so easy to just switch gears.

But by doing a lot of personal work around this issue, I have started to learn some helpful techniques for overcoming my powerful fear of confrontation.

 1. Ask Yourself: Is it really a confrontation?

What I discovered about myself is that I tend to put any little disagreement or difference of opinion into the category of a confrontation. This makes the encounter a huge deal, instead of maybe just a normal conversation.

Recently I was at a meeting where I didn’t agree with the ideas that were being discussed. I didn’t say anything at the time because I was afraid to go against the tide of majority opinion, but it bothered me so much that I decided I had to say something at the next meeting.

As I was speaking my truth, it occurred to me that it really wasn’t a confrontation at all. Instead, it was a discussion of ideas. And discussing ideas when there’s a difference of opinion is how progress is made. The conversation was actually a lot of fun and we were able to move our ideas forward.

So the first thing to think about when you’re facing confrontation is whether the situation is really a confrontation. Are you sure it’s not just a discussion or a friendly conversation that includes some differing opinions?

2. Prepare what you want to say.

Spend some time thinking about what it is you want to say. A great technique is to write down your ideas in a free-flowing, brainstorming style, where you are just trying to get everything out.

When you are first starting, don’t try to write any kind of complete, eloquent speech. You just want to express what you are thinking and feeling.

Then you can go back to these ideas and try to make some sense of them: Which are the most important points that you really cannot avoid saying? How do you want to say those things?

It will be more effective not to read from a sheet of paper; instead, just try to speak for yourself about what you really think and feel. But if you are very nervous and afraid you won’t be able to remember all that you want to say, use your notes for back-up.

3. Be a diplomat.

There are different ways to approach a difference of opinion (or a confrontation, if that’s what it is), and some work better than others. People respond in a much more productive way when they don’t feel threatened.

And the kind of reaction you get from others can have a powerful effect on how you respond. So try to couch your ideas or feelings in a way that is non-threatening but still gets your point across.

Instead of saying “You did this or that,” try “I observed….” Instead of “I disagree,” try “I see things differently….” Another technique is to phrase ideas as questions.

Though it can be very effective to play the diplomat when trying to get your ideas across, you need to make sure that you still say what you want to say. Don’t be so accommodating and non-threatening that your point gets lost.

4. Speak first.

Being the first person to speak has several advantages. You get to set the tone for the rest of the encounter, so now others are responding to what you have said.

And if you have played the diplomat then you have set a non-threatening tone for the rest of the discussion.

You also get the part you fear—expressing your differing opinions or feelings—out of the way, so you won’t be able to avoid speaking your truth.

5. Honor yourself and your truth.

The most important thing to remember in any kind of confrontation (or disagreement or discussion) is that you are worthy of speaking your truth. You are valuable and therefore what you have to say is valuable, whether other people agree with you or not.

You can use the techniques I have suggested here, but you will not overcome your anxiety about confrontation unless you accept the truth about yourself: you are a unique individual with gifts to give the world and you deserve to be heard.

Photo by Paul Stevenson

34 thoughts on “5 Ways to Overcome a Fear of Confrontation”

  1. People really undervalue the whole be a diplomat approach (Maybe some people think that the ability to yell and scream means you are in a position of power). Often what you see as a confrontation or issue, is not an issue for the other person. Additionally, maintaining your calmness gives the other person that you are the one in control of the situation.

  2. CJ – thank you for sharing your story! It really resonated with me – I am a big chicken when it comes to confrontation (or what I perceive as confrontation!) as well. Your first point about asking whether it’s really confrontation is such an important one. I think we learn a lot about confrontation based on how we were raised. What is a terrifying confrontation in one family may just be a loud discussion in another.

    It has taken me a long time to unlearn the concept that disagreement leads to dire consequences. Emotionally, I still feel a strong fear response when I hear a raised voice or have the perception that someone I think of as an authority is displeased.

    I agree with Josh that the practice of diplomacy is greatly undervalued. I feel like I have more control over a situation and garner more respect when I am able to think carefully about my responses and don’t blurt out things that are likely to cause others to be defensive.

    Continue speaking your truth! :-)

    1. Thanks for sharing your own experiences, Stephanie! And also for the encouragement about speaking my truth. It is very liberating. I hope you keep speaking your truth, too!!

  3. I remember having nothing to contribute when I was a freshman in a college philosophy class. Now, many years and degrees later, I say what I want with the attitude of “yeah, I said it..”. It’s great. I always have something to say. People are always glad I did. Speak up. You have something to add. Do it.

  4. CJ – I too was raised with the mantra to keep the peace. I am now 51 and am still trying to work through the issues that this has plagued me with. I have been doing some work with a life coach, and up until recent,have realized turned the definition to be something that has really worked for me. Keep the peace within myself. It has really made a difference in how I treat situations that I would have otherwise not addressed. Keep on working through, and Keep the peace within you. :)

    1. Thanks for your insight, Jack! Even though I am overcoming my fear of confrontation, I do realize that my life-long habit of trying to keep the peace does have some benefits. One is that I am good at being the diplomat and seeing many sides of a situation. I really like the idea of keeping the peace within myself–I’ll definitely have to think more about that.

  5. A lot of valid points to reflect upon. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I never really some of these points a thought except for the diplomatic approach of course. Most of the time I try to consider others in anyways possible so even at times I attempt to speak my mind I tend to be a little indirect. I do need to remember that I am still entitle to my own opinion even if others may disagree. I tend to let others sway me too easily or disapprove of my own perspective. It is as if I’ve live my entire life ruled by the opinion of another. I’m but 27 now but it is a wonderful thing to find advice so useful. I will definitely be trying these methods of presenting and upholding my own opinion out. I feel it may give me a better sense of pride in myself.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Vernon! I am so happy you found the post helpful. Speaking your truth–especially when you’ve been hesitant or afraid to do so–feels great! I was so proud of myself for speaking up at that meeting I wrote about in the post. And, really, any time I overcome the fear of confrontation I can pat myself on the back and know I did the right thing for myself. That feeling of pride in myself is just another benefit of being honest.

  6. Thanks for this article. I had one thought I would like to share. A lot of my friends and I have problems realizing that our points of view are valid. Our low self-esteem makes us overlook our own opinions. We might feel hurt or angry but we tend to get walked all over since we don’t really see our own needs.

    I am a big peace keeper myself and usually leave confrontations to my wife. When she confronts a friend or one of her girls she tends to get more upset about things I let slide. Either way you had some great points in your post and I appreciate it!

    1. I’m so glad you liked the post, Sean. I wish you all the best on your journey to believing that you have an important and unique perspective to offer others.

  7. “The most important thing to remember in any kind of confrontation (or disagreement or discussion) is that you are worthy of speaking your truth”

    I strongly believe in this. It is not necessary that everybody need to agree before it is truth. As long as we think we are speaking the truth and with no malice, we should speak our truth. i have written some things in my blog which might go against the grain but I am speaking what i think is the truth. Others may not agree but it is still my truth. My votes for you, CJ.

    1. Thanks, Stu! I like that you add speaking your truth with no malice. I think it’s important to remember to approach others with respect and hopefully they will do the same.

  8. Agreed with Stu Lim and second that vote to CJ. Speaking the truth makes you feel better instead of keeping emotions inside that can cause health problems. I also tried to be the peaceful person in the past and later realized that is the truth that keeps the peace inside of me that matters. Thanks for sharing CJ.

  9. Hi C.J.,

    I read your post, and feel compelled to speak my truth to you…

    I agree with all the recommendations you madk. They’re great starting points, and once you do them, I am certain you will find the actual resistance to speaking your truth. Over a 22 year career in counseling and coaching – and as someone who used to have the same problem you do – the real cure is in finding the self-respect and self-esteem to tolerate confrontation…to not internalize and fear other people’s response to you. Being OK with someone’s dissatisfaction takes strength, but the rewards are achievement, fun, and ultimately more peace than any techniques by themselves can give.

    Best of luck…and have fun on the journey!


    1. I can definitely see myself in what you say about being okay with someone’s dissatisfaction. It really does take a lot of strength, but I agree that there are great rewards. I’ll continue to work on this issue, and I appreciate your perspective. Thanks, Larry!

  10. A very powerful post CJ, thank you for speaking your truth. I too had the beliefs if I spoke up or “rocked the boat” there would be hell to pay – and I’d be the one paying! But at a certain point, I realized that my voice, my truth, ideas, opinions etc. were indeed valuable and needed. It took a lot of inner work, releasing my fears and building confidence, before I was able to speak up without the urge to bolt.

    Your first point really struck home for me – my ego mind would project great confrontations and battles and I’d freak myself out so much I’d simply back away, feeling worse than before. Learning to re-frame and give new meaning to those situations that triggered my fears gave me a whole new set of tools to see each situation as it was, not as my frightened inner 5 year old saw it. Now I look at the same situations as an opportunity for growth, learning and service – quite a change. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m so glad you liked the post, Lorna! It sounds like you have done some important work of your own around this issue. I really like the idea of framing “confrontational” situations as opportunities for growth, learning and service. That is a very helpful way of thinking about it. Thanks!

  11. C.J

    Using diplomacy in any confrontation or argument, I think it’s the best way for one to speak his truth; and get the best result at the same time. I completely agree with the approach that CJ took to speak his truth. Sometimes people take advantage of you when you’re quite or shy. I am not a shy person. But I have a problem using the right word when in a confrontation or discussion. I also used to get upset and tried to get even with the other party. In reality, that never worked well for me. Reading this post gives me a complete different mindset on how I can let my truth out without stepping on anybody’s toes.
    Thanks for sharing your thought..

  12. There is a saying in Sanskrit , ” speak the truth, say it calmly and lovingly but avoid speaking unpleasant truth “. One has to be diplomatic in speaking the unpleasant truth.

    1. Thanks for sharing that saying, Mahavir. I think diplomacy can get you pretty far, as long as you still are able to speak your truth while being diplomatic.

  13. Thanks CJ really helpful ideas. Great timing for me too in my personal life as I’ve viewed situtations as confrontational recently when they are just discussions. Find it helps to take a breather for a moment too, take a few seconds out to recalibrate. Thanks again for sharing your truth.

    1. I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Sharon! It was really a breakthrough for me when I realized that I was needlessly turning so many encounters into “confrontations.” And taking a breather…always great advice!

      1. This is one of the good story I’ve ever read about confrontation. This post really remind me my story that past last year. I had big confrontation with my friend who I’m helping at back home in Ethiopia. It’s been his 2 and half years of his medical school. At first I agreed upon helping him with school fee and some other expense until one situation get settled. Unfortunately that situation didn’t go as we expected and I stacked in the middle of no where and helping him for everything. The school is private college and the tuition is very high. We do get along very well for long time. Now things start testing fishy and I’m very overwhelmed with what is going on. Final I came with decision to stand up for the truth and telling him what I only can do to keep the promise I made. It’s really, really hard sometimes when you confront someone who is in this kinds of situations. But, your posting helped me a lot to learn how to confront and how to speak the truth rather than just carrying everything that you can’t carry anymore. Thank you so much for your post.

  14. I also tend to avoid confrontation, but that only enlarges the issue inside of my mind. When I keep things to myself, I notice that my mind only gets more entangled with it. This can turn a very simple matter into a huge problem. It’s self-denial to not express yourself, but also you’re building up pressure that’s self-imposed and not part of the situation. I’ve experienced that I would let the pressure build until I couldn’t contain myself anymore, but then I would express myself with an aggression that was completely unnecessary. Instead, by just expressing what I feel the moment it occurs, there is no pressure and you help the other person become more aware as well.

  15. I hate confrontations..of any sort. I realize that it’s beneficial to make some things clear and communicated when needed. But I fear being misunderstood. So many times, I end up not confronting. But yes, I do try to be diplomatic and sort out any issue as amiably as possible. But people tend to think me as weak..i know that. Your article really has many helpful ideas. Thanks!

  16. I hate to have any confrontations or I call it drama. I was diagnose with Breast Cancer this September. I personally called each family member. I called my brother in law and his wife to tell them. My brother in law did not respond in a nice way and said the following things, “I guess you are not going to take a vacation”, ” We will keep our distance, if you need us, you will let us know.”. Needless to say, he has yet to call to see how I am doing. My husband text him to tell him my surgery went well in October. I was furious with my husband for even telling his brother anything. Beside my husbands text we have not heard from him or his wife. The holiday’s are approaching and I am afraid I will say some pretty nasty things to him and his wife. My husband thinks his brother just says stupid things. I want to be prepared to deal with my brother in law and his wife but I don’t want to come across, like the crazy person. And my husband is not going to say a thing to him. Please tell me what to do..

  17. Thanks for the post. I get this unbelievable stress when faced with a confrontation. I am getting close to 40 and do not know how to deal with it. Your post is a great starting point.

    Thanks – KD

  18. I believe at one point in everyone’s life, there has been this challenge of being afraid of what others will think if you stand up for your self and do what jives with your true self. Some people just don’t have the severity of anxiety as others do. Most of the time it does have something to do with being put down or made to feel less of a person, by some one of great influence in your earlier life for an extended period of time. It is one of our lessons we have to learn. We are who we are and you just have to deal with it. People have that time when they say, OK enough is enough, and then there is change. We have to get sick of something to change it. I have gotten to that point a few years ago. Thank goodness I got sick of it. Lol. My thoughts are this, you have to make peace with yourself and accept yourself as a valid person, believe in yourself and the rest will follow. It really is all about you and not the other person you wish to confront or have normal conversation with. Everyone has to learn that. Thank you for all the insight from this post. It validates some questions of my own.

  19. What is meant by “my truth”? Truth is impersonal, no? Or do you mean truth about yourself? People can differ in opinions or beliefs about the truth, but the truth itself is objective.

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