5 Ways to overcome the fear of confrontation

overcome fear of confrontation

When I was young I was scared of confrontation and this limited me socially for a number of years. Fear of confrontation can prevent you from being straightforward with others, whether it’s fighting your corner in heated situations or telling someone they’re incorrect. It can stop you from doing something as simple as asking neighbours to turn their music down.

Have you ever heard someone described as ‘too nice’? It tends to imply that someone’s making too many sacrifices in order to appease everybody. This trait can stem from childhood, when a person might think they can please everyone if they avoid confronting behaviour they’re uncomfortable with. Most people can relate to feeling anxious at the thought of saying ‘no’, or ‘I’m uncomfortable with that and this is why’. It’s that fear of upsetting the applecart, of wanting to do what it takes to preserve the peace of mind of others. However, being able to communicate problems with people can be so important to self-care and self-esteem.

When dealing with a fear of confrontation, first you must set your own boundaries. This will help you decide when confrontation is necessary.

Being assertive and increasing your confidence doesn’t have to mean diving into any situation looking for conflict. Overcoming fear of confrontation is a step forward in self-care, and needs to be done with a positive attitude:

  1. You need to make your own rules.
  2. You need to decide when you feel that people are overstepping the line.
  3. You need to make a commitment to yourself – a commitment to be clear with people that they’ve crossed the line.

A major downside to fearing confrontation is that if you don’t raise a point during a conversation, aside from missing out on a more honest and meaningful talk, it could appear like you’re deceiving somebody if you then go on to discuss your feelings with someone else at another time. You wouldn’t dream of being ‘two-faced’ in a million years, that wasn’t your intention at all – but that’s how it can be read.

Other problems might crop up – for example, constantly bottling up your feelings could lead to an angry or emotional situation where you say things you might not mean. This can make you feel worse, drag down your self-esteem and escalate the original problem. If this sounds like you, check out these do’s and don’ts on how to argue effectively.

I don’t have a defining moment for when I started to overcome my own fear of confrontation. I didn’t even have a plan to overcome my fear. I can only assume that there must have come a point where I just spoke up and defended myself or corrected somebody. Getting a positive result would have made me trust myself to do it again, helping me build on my confidence from there.

Looking back on how my interactions with others have changed over the years, I’ve come up with five ways to overcome the fear of confrontation. I hope they’ll prove useful.

5 ways to overcome the fear of confrontation

1. Decide whether confrontation is necessary.

You’ll define your own boundaries. For myself, I don’t feel obliged to pick people up on every little thing I don’t like. To me, overcoming my fear at work and in general meant that if (for example) I was at work and my boss thanked one of my colleagues for completing a task I’d performed, I would mention it. If my neighbour was playing loud music late at night, I would politely ask them to turn it down. In learning to stand up for myself I made mistakes – I may have overreacted to certain things – but I found a polite and comfortable way to interject in conversations where I felt I needed to correct something.

2. If you can, make time to discuss your concerns with people in a neutral space.

Arrange a meeting at work, or ask to meet your friend for a coffee. Arranging a discussion in the near future gives you time to calm down and think about what you want to say. Meeting in a neutral space can sometimes result in less conflict and a speedier resolution than calling somebody out on something in public.

3. Stick to the facts when discussing your concerns.

It can be very tempting to explode and demand answers. “Who on earth do you think you are? Who do you think you’re speaking to? What do you think you’re doing?”

Provocative questions like these won’t get to the root of the problem. A good way to achieve that without necessarily escalating the situation is to stick to the facts. “It’s midnight and you’re playing your music very loud” or “I disagree with your point and I’d like to discuss it” is a much healthier way to confront an issue than “what do you think you’re playing at?”

4. Communicate clearly why you have a problem.

It may sound obvious, but it can really help to move the conversation forward if you explain why you feel angry, upset or uncomfortable. The person that you’re speaking to is (probably) not a mind-reader! Explain to your boss you’re interjecting because you completed the task that they just thanked your colleague for. Be clear with your neighbour that you’d like them to turn the music down because you have to wake up early in the morning. Clearly explaining why you are upset will achieve much better results than leaving somebody feeling confused about the situation.

5. Tell the person who has upset you what changes you expect, and explain the benefits of this change.

Once again, you can’t expect somebody to read your mind. You need to tell them how you’d like the issue to be resolved, and why this change would make you feel better or benefit a situation.

It’s good to try to reach a compromise if possible, but if you feel strongly enough about something then aim to express your point of view, explain how you want the situation to change and justify why your solution will make things better. Nobody has to agree with you, but this way at least they’re aware of your feelings.

Lastly, I’d recommend staying calm as much as possible. If you’re not used to voicing your perspective on things, try arranging conversations in the future to prepare for them, and see if you’d prefer to remove yourself from the situation until you’ve gathered your thoughts. Once you feel more settled, you’re ready to practise more self-care and try again to confront your problem.

During this process it may help for you to have a little ‘me’ time.

Ways to unwind with self-care: