One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn since “becoming an adult” [read: moving out without any idea of what I’m doing] is how to get up, stand up. For myself, that is.
This article is for you if you’re afraid of confrontation. Worried about rocking the boat. Unsure of how to approach someone with a complaint. Let me start by saying: I sure am. All of the above. Yes and yes and yes. I don’t like conflict, confrontation, or making a scene. Hence, I steer clear. I ignore. I bottle up. I seethe frustration when I’m alone or to anyone who will listen.
This weekend in particular was enlightening. Turns out, I did something to annoy my roommate. I was discourteous. It bugged her. So she confronted me. Dearie me, is it really so easy as that? All this time, could I have just shot off an angry text, had a conversation, problem solved? Who knows. But as we sat down to talk about it, all the things I’d never said came bubbling out, fueled by frustration. I quickly realized how absurd it was that I had been bottling these things up for so long, that I should have said something at the time.
Of course, coming to this realization and implementing confrontational behaviour in the future are two very different things. Although I’ve learned my lesson, that doesn’t mean that I’m an expert at applying it. All I can share with you today are the thoughts I’ve been having about how to make it easier for myself (and you!).
1. It doesn’t make you a b*#$@.
Part of my problem is that I don’t want to be seen in a negative light. I don’t want to create tension. Living with someone new is especially hard, since you come from totally different backgrounds, values, and ways of doing things (or not doing them, as the case may be). It’s hard to know how a person will respond to criticism, and one of my personal fears is that it will make me look rude, anal-retentive, obsessive or just plain not nice. And heaven forbid I don’t seem nice! So I just put up with things, don’t mention it, suppress.
Saying how you feel doesn’t make you a bee-otch. Those of you who are good at confrontation already know this, but those who aren’t: are you afraid you’ll seem rude? Expressing yourself, saying when something bugs you, standing up for yourself – it’s normal, natural. Dialogue is important! People can’t read your mind. And sometimes people are oblivious: you may think that what’s bugging you should be obvious, but it very well may not be.
2. Choose the lesser of the evils.
When I moved in with a roommate for the first time, I had been forewarned not to be “passive-aggressive” by leaving notes or sending text messages. The only problem is, advice like that should come with a disclaimer: everyone’s situation is different. Mine certainly is: my roommate and I have completely different schedules and routines, and are hardly ever home at the same time. When we are, chances are one of us is sleeping, studying, or otherwise preoccupied. For us, there never seemed to be a good time to talk.
Because of these restraints, what I should have done was choose the lesser of the evils. Yes: direct, face-to-face confrontation is the ideal, but if it’s not possible, don’t do like I did and put it off entirely. Instead, broach the topic in a note or text message. It may not the best possible way to do it, but it’s still superior to ignoring it altogether.
3. If it bugs you, it’s worth bringing up.
Ever heard this one?
“It didn’t seem worth bringing up at the time, but over time all these things just built up..”
If it bugs you, bring it up. It doesn’t matter how small it seems – I can almost guarantee that the less you bring it up, the more it’ll annoy you. This is especially applicable in a living situation, where there are two people living under the same roof for an extended period of time. No matter how stupid or insignificant an action may seem to your roommate, you’re both under an obligation to live peaceably with one another. And if something bothers you, it violates this peace, and deserves to be said. So say it!
4. Take expert advice.
When all else fails, turn to people who are good at confrontation. Like I said in #1, there’s nothing wrong with being confrontational (within limits, like everything) – it simply means you’re standing up for yourself. So while I was thinking about confrontation, I contacted my friend Isabelle for her opinion on the subject. One of her best qualities is her ability to unfailingly stand up for herself and what she believes in. She doesn’t shy away from telling people how she feels and doesn’t shirk from tough, sometimes uncomfortable interactions. She gave me great advice that I’d like to share with you. In her own words, advice on confrontation:
- Be honest.
- Have a purpose + know what you want to accomplish.
- Cool down first.
- Be confident, know your argument has merit (otherwise, why would you be talking to them?)
- Don’t let people walk all over you, but sometimes you have to be the bigger person and let things go
- Sometimes consider if what you’re going to say will just hurt the other person needlessly
She finished with this, which I think really sums up the entire point:
Overall though, I’ve always felt that it’s important to stand up for yourself and not let the fear of confronting someone hold you back.
So let me ask you: how do you feel about confrontation? Do you go through life, not expressing your true opinion, being dragged places you don’t feel like going or putting up with things that annoy you? Are you afraid to tell people how you feel, or does it just seem like too much of a hassle? Do you (gasp) enjoy complaining, and so would rather not confront? Don’t play the victim!
I’d love to hear your strategies, techniques, and coping mechanisms for dealing with confrontation. It’s something I’m sure we’ll all need to learn how to do more and more as we grow up into socially-competent adults. As for me, I need to hear your advice. This is something I struggle with, and which I’m trying to work on. Any help?
Yours in confrontational solidarity,