“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