To Confront or Not Confront

We all have found ourselves in one or more situations where we had to decide whether or not to confront someone. It could have been at the store when someone cut in line ahead of you, on a flight when someone was mistreating the flight attendant, or at the office when an employee’s work was below par. There is no doubt your emotions were running high with anger and fear rushing through your body. Maybe you really struggled with the decision, or maybe your emotions took control causing you to automatically rush into the confrontation or withdraw from the situation entirely.

Very few people like confrontation. Most people find themselves somewhere on the continuum between totally hating confrontation to dealing with it reasonably well. Regardless of your position on the continuum a good rule of thumb when deciding whether to confront or not is asking yourself if confronting the person will make a difference. Will the person learn from it or think twice before they display the same behavior? If not then don’t confront them. Especially don’t confront them when it only makes you feel better by giving them a piece of your mind. These situations always turn out bad. Either both persons’ tempers’ get out of control or you will emotionally puke on the person leaving them startled and then feel bad about it later.

When you do choose to confront someone make sure you use the least amount of emotion to get the effect you are looking for. The person who is being confronted will always be somewhat defensive and it is easier for someone to learn when they are least defensive. Also, when the confrontation becomes overly emotional, know when to let go. For instance, if it is a person you don’t know, most likely there is no learning taking place so it is best for you to walk away. If you do know the person sometimes it is best to leave and live to fight another day. Going too far with this person can hurt your credibility and handicap your ability to make a difference with them in the future.

Lucy could have used some of this advice when she saw a man knock her son down rushing to go to the bathroom at a little league baseball game. The man was clearly not paying attention and didn’t even stop after knocking down her son. Lucy was filled with rage and after picking her son up off the ground rushed into the men’s bathroom. She confronted the man as he stood at the urinal, calling him every name in the book and demanding he apologize to her son right away. An argument ensued and he responded with a few choice words while zipping up his pants. Lucy left the men’s bathroom frustrated and embarrassed as bystanders stared and snickered at her. Not only did Lucy feel bad about her actions that night she became a disgraced legend in the league’s baseball circle.

So what do you do when you choose to not confront someone? Knowing that confronting the person will not make a difference will help you release the anger you feel in the moment and will help you disassociate from the situation. This is a good thing. But, what if you choose to not confront even when it will make a difference? This usually happens when you want to run away from the confrontation because you hate it and/or find yourself feeling fearful. You may be saying to yourself the person will never learn, won’t listen to me, or it’s not worth it, but the real reason is you are overly uncomfortable in the situation even though you know confronting the person will make a difference.

Your feelings are real and valid, but you can choose to confront and act on it as you have many options available to you. If you don’t have to confront the person right away and can do so later then wait, but do it sooner than later. Delaying it will allow you to calm your emotions and prepare your thoughts. A great tool in these situations is role playing with someone. If you don’t have the option of waiting, then ask someone to stand with you while you confront the person. This will give you strength. Just remind yourself that confronting a person when they mistreat you bolsters your self-esteem. When you do it to defend another person you are carrying out a form of justice.

It is safe to say you will find yourself in many more situations where you will have to choose to confront or not confront. Yes, your emotions will be racing, but hopefully you will ask yourself if it will make a difference and then make an honest decision. I bet most of the time you will also find that the confrontation will go better than you thought it would.