Are You Avoiding Confrontation?

I think there’s a trend … a trend toward avoiding confrontation. All the time. At all costs. No matter what’s at stake.

And it’s starting to concern me!

It’s not that confrontation is a good thing – too much of it, and life gets very tense.

But it’s important that, when the situation warrants it, we be able to confront the person who’s about to make a major mistake, or the person who’s not aware of the impact of what he or she did, or the person who’s pushed you too hard too many times.

When you avoid confrontation all the time, you never speak up for yourself and things are unlikely to get better. I think other people realize that you’d rather put up with what they’re dishing out than assert yourself – so they go ahead and walk on you!

Right now there is an epidemic of people who hate confrontation. So they do just about anything to avoid it, including burying their personalities, and their points of view. And when they do THAT, over time, the world gets to be a worse place, and I have to believe they get frustrated!

Really, what’s the worst that could happen? That the person confronted pushes back at you? And you fold like a house of cards? Seriously?

I wonder if the problem is that your thoughts aren’t clear. Are you afraid you can’t articulate a point of view? Remember, just because you see a gray area – that there’s no absolute right or wrong in a situation you’re facing – doesn’t mean that you should stifle all your thoughts!

It’s important to see the ability to confront another person as one of the tools you have available to you. It enables you to have courage in your convictions and speak up, to take your best shot at being heard, and having your point of view taken into consideration. 

There’s nothing wrong with rearing back on your hind legs, from time to time, and taking a position, stating it clearly, and letting the chips fall where they may. But my experience of working with those now in their 20s … and even some in their 30s … is that they are exhibiting the least ability to confront of any generation. So, as a consequence, they’re not closing sales, getting raises, or negotiating for what they want very well at all.

How is confrontation a part of selling? Well, suppose you’re told “no,” your prospect isn’t going to buy. Yet, he or she earlier admitted having a problem, or an unfulfilled aspiration, in exactly the area where you work.

Wouldn’t it make sense to say, “Fred, I hear you saying that we’re not going to work together. At the same time, you’ve told me (whatever the pain is). Help me reconcile those two: you don’t want to work with me, when my work fixes (or significantly improves) situations like that. What am I missing here?”

And how is confrontation a part of getting a raise? You have to bring it up! It’s unlikely that your boss is going to come to you and say, “We really need to talk about raising your pay.”

It’s up to you to say, “I think we should have a conversation about my progress, and my compensation, boss. When’s best for you to do that?” And yes, when you say that, you run the risk that your boss will say, “There’s not going to be a discussion about your pay!”

At that point, you have a pretty good idea that, if you can’t be happy with your current income, you’re going to have to look for other employment. And, if your pay is inadequate, that’s a great thing to know.

And how is confrontation a part of negotiating for what you want? In negotiation, you try to determine what the other person wants, and what he or she may be willing to give up in order to get what they want. Then you look at what YOU want, and what you would be willing to give up to get that.

Then you try to carve a compromise that gives the other person a good portion of what he or she wants, while also giving you a good part of what you had in mind.

To get there, you have to be pretty clear: “Mary, it sounds as if you’re saying X or Y is possible, but you’re not willing to consider Z.” That’s confrontational, summarizing all that they’ve said into a couple of points – and you run the risk that you’ll hear, “That is NOT what I said!”

But before you can offer a concession along the way to coming to a favorable compromise, you pretty much have to get clear on what the other person wants and might be willing to give up, and put that out on the table directly. And you have to be prepared for your negotiating partner to radically disagree with your assessment of the situation.

I’m not sure what the problem with confrontation is. Are we afraid we can’t handle any anger on the part of the other person? Or that we can’t handle OUR OWN ANGER? Are we afraid we won’t be able to take any pressure? Or that if we try confronting, other people will take an aggressive tack with us, and we’ll lose the ensuing fight? Are we just weak?

If you’ve caught yourself carefully avoiding confronting even people who deserve it in situations that can make a big difference for you in your quality of life, or the thickness of your wallet, you may want to reassess.

There used to be a dialogue about assertiveness: the willingness to assert one’s own ideas, even in the face of another person’s differing point of view. Being assertive – that is, inclined toward bold or confident assertion of one’s self or one’s point of view – is a better approach than fearing confrontation.

And while it doesn’t mean that you’re unable to hear and respect another’s point of view, it is based on your firm belief that your views are worth consideration, too.


Lenann McGookey Gardner, CSP, is a Harvard MBA and a seasoned industry executive. She works with professionals in accounting, consulting, research, consumer products, telecommunications, banking and technology industries.  An international speaker, she is the author of Got Sales:  The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services, which was nominated for the Axiom Business Book Award as the best sales book of the year. Profiled in Who’s Who in America every year since 2004, she serves as an executive coach to professionals around the world. Visit her websites: http://YouCanSell.com and http://YouCanLeadCoaching.com.

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