Tolerating confrontation

Unless we agree with everything that others say or do, confrontation is inevitable. When we’re comfortable with confrontation, we can see it as an opportunity to learn about another’s perspective and share our own.

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Why this matters

Most of us are uncomfortable dealing with or tolerating confrontation, whether it’s between ourselves and another person or between two other people. confrontation can trigger a range of emotional, cognitive and physical reactions. For example, many people can relate to feeling uncomfortable when witnessing a hostile argument.

Others who aren’t troubled by confrontation may even enjoy it and become energized by it. They may see it as a game to win but fail to recognize the damage this approach might inflict on others. 

When we resist, avoid or are highly uncomfortable with confrontation, it’s a source of stress. When we are careless with confrontation, we may inadvertently harm ourselves or others. By learning to tolerate confrontation for the purpose of exploring different ideas and perspectives, we can more objectively use it to learn and grow.

Explore and reflect

Our reaction to confrontation is shaped by several factors:

  • How our families managed confrontation
  • What we’ve been told confrontation means about ourselves
  • Our personal expectations for our own behaviour

We’re even more uncomfortable with confrontation when we:

  • Feel it should be avoided at all costs
  • Interpret it to mean we’re not being respected, accepted or valued
  • Think it indicates a lack of control

No matter how uncomfortable confrontation may be, we can be more effective if we’re adept at tolerating, and therefore responding appropriately, to conflict.

One useful technique for dealing with confrontation is to take a mental step back from it and contemplate how and why it’s making you uncomfortable. Ask yourself if there are:

Reflecting this way can help you keep emotional interactions in perspective. You can also explore what everyone involved in the confrontation needs in order to retain a sense of dignity and move toward a resolution.

Reflect on the factors that make tolerating confrontation difficult for you. Complete the following sentences:

When I’m in a confrontational situation…

  • emotionally, I feel ...
  • physically, I react by ...
  • I have the following thoughts about myself ...
  • I have the following thoughts about others ...

Now, think of situations in which you tolerated confrontation well. What specific actions did you take that were helpful?

Take action

When the next confrontation or difference of opinion arises, think about how you could engage without it becoming personal. Can you focus on the disputed idea and try to learn about the other person’s perspective rather than defending yourself or staying quiet? To learn more, check out Resolving personal conflict.

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann Baynton

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