With the exception of sociopaths few people enjoy confrontation.
It’s uncomfortable. It causes tension and anxiety. And it’s at direct odds with how our brains are wired through evolution.
Outside of life or death situations, we evolved to avoid confronting anyone or anything.
Back in hunter-gatherer days, confrontation carried a fatal potential.
The conflict between tribes or wild animals or fellow clan members could lead to death. So our brain–acutely aware of this possibility–programmed us with an instinctual aversion to confrontation.
But times have changed.
Confronting an issue in the modern world (barring global or a physical fight) rarely possess any inherent physical risk.
You aren’t going to die or lose a limb by confronting the employer or client who isn’t paying you fairly, that challenging partner who isn’t respecting your boundaries, or the friend who continually asks to borrow money, “Just one more time.”
But our brains haven’t caught up with the modern world.
They’re still operating with software installed 200,000 years ago. Software that causes us to avoid conflict over much less dangerous–but no less significant–matters.
So if you struggle to deal with confrontation in everyday life, know that you’re not alone and that there are solutions.
And in this article, we’re going to share what confrontation is, how to deal with confrontation, avoid anxiety, and be a stronger man.
Why Men Avoid Confrontation (And How It Creates Anxiety)
Before we can address the nuances of dealing with confrontation, it’s important to understand what confrontation is and why we avoid it in the first place.
Confrontation is a communication style that can be aggressive, assertive, or passive. It involves directly stating your thoughts and feelings to the person with whom you are disagreeing.
In some cases, confrontation may lead to an argument, or even physical confrontation but it doesn’t have to. You can learn how to deal with confrontation in a healthy way and maintain your relationships that actually builds respect.
Beyond evolutionary hardwiring, we’ve all been programmed with specific beliefs about confrontation and its role in our lives.
And until these beliefs are rewritten and our programming updated, you’ll continue to experience a fear of confrontation regardless of the tools shared.
1. We Invalidate Our Own Needs
From the time we were little, both men and women have been programmed by society to see their needs as invalid and unimportant.
Your neighbor is throwing a loud party on a Tuesday night?
Don’t be a stick in the mud! Let them have their fun (even though you have to wake up at 5AM for an important interview).
Your boss is making unreasonable demands and asking you to work weekends–again?
Shut up and pay your dues! Everyone has to do things they don’t like.
Most of us are walking around with an internal script that says:
“Don’t be selfish. Put others first. Their needs matter more.”
But to fall back on the old cliche, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.
Never forget that you are the most important person in your life. And by chronically avoiding confrontation at the expense of your own needs, not only will you have less to offer the people that matter to you, but you’ll slowly begin to resent the individuals who should be your greatest allies.
Yes we’re all equally important–or insignificant depending on how you look at it–in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
But you are the only person who gets to live your life. Meaning that you are the only person who can get your needs met.
In a world filled with 7.8 billion people–all of whom have competing interests and desires–getting those needs met will require confrontation.
It doesn’t need to be mean-spirited or intense or hurtful.
But to live your life to the fullest, you will be required to “negotiate” (aka confront) other people in your life to reinforce boundaries, share your emotions, and express your needs.
If you don’t? You’re resigning yourself to a life of victimhood where other people can use and abuse you–intentionally or unintentionally–at will.
2. We Don’t Understand the True Value Proposition of Confrontation
We’ve all been programmed with false assumptions about confrontation–namely that it’s always bad and will cause someone to get hurt if we take a stand for our needs.
So instead of addressing an issue head on, we avoid speaking altogether.
But when we face our fear of confrontation and face the issue head on, there are only three possible scenarios.
- The situation is resolved (and future conflict is mitigated)
- It’s acknowledged but not resolved (but now the people involved are aware of the issue)
- It’s not resolved and the whole situation gets worse because we brought it up
What we don’t realize is that when we cave to the fear of confrontation, we guarantee the worst-case scenario.
Because we aren’t willing to talk with the other person, they aren’t even aware that there’s a problem. And as a result, the current situation will only get worse and reinforce to the subconscious mind that you are a man who does not stand up for himself, which makes it more difficult in the future.
One circumstance that illustrates this point is approaching a beautiful woman.
If you go over and introduce yourself, she may reject you, or she may not.
But chances are she won’t splash her drink on you, curse you out, or embarrass you in public.
The most likely worst-case scenario is simply that she isn’t interested and tells you that she’s not the droid you’re looking for.
But if you decide not to approach her at all, you make the decision for her by rejecting yourself. Your desired outcome is impossible to achieve because of the false assumptions you make about her feelings.
The worst-case scenario that you’re afraid of–rejection–is only guaranteed when you don’t take action.
And the same thing is true with productive confrontation.
If you decide not to ask your boss for a raise or call out your colleague when they arrive late to a meeting or confront your significant other when they say or do something that makes you feel disrespected, the worst thing that can happen is that nothing changes.
And if you decide not to take action and initiate the uncomfortable conversation? You’ve guaranteed that nothing will change–and the anxiety you’re experiencing by suppressing your needs will only continue to fester.
There’s no guarantee that engaging the other person will fix a situation. Even if you approach the situation with a positive attitude and good communication.
But there is a guarantee that avoiding the conversation won’t.
3. We View Conflict As “Wrong” (And Want to Be Seen as a Nice Guy who is Approved of)
The third reason men avoid confrontation is that they view it as wrong.
It’s an inevitable part of living a healthy life.
We’re all individuals with our own individual needs, desires, and goals.
And sometimes, one person’s personality or feelings clash with someone else’s. Whether it’s a minor issue or something serious.
Our partner wants Mexican food, we want Sushi. Our friend wants us to take vacation time to fly out for their birthday party, we want that time to go on a solo trip. Our boss wants us to finish a project by a certain deadline, we know that deadline is unreasonable.
This isn’t a bad thing. It simply means that one person feels differently than another and that there’s a misalignment between their values, expectations, or desired outcome.
Handling conflicts is ultimately little more than negotiation.
There’s an offer on the table–Mexican food, a birthday party, or a deadline–but you haven’t yet made a counteroffer to the proposal.
By talking to the other person about the offer and stating your needs and desires clearly, you’re able to compromise and collaborate together to achieve an outcome where both of you walk away feeling that your needs are heard and met.
If you want to learn how to eliminate your Nice Guy behaviors and become a more assertive and grounded man, I put together a special free training to help men reclaim their power, improve their relationships, and become their strongest selves.
How to Handle Confrontation Like a Strong Man
The ability to handle confrontation is a key part of being a strong and respectable man. It’s not always easy, but every man should be able to show up for himself when he needs to. Here are a few tips on how to deal with confrontation like a strong man:
1. Flip the Script: Seeing Confrontation as Problem Solving
As I alluded to in the point above, to successfully navigate confrontation, you first need to redefine it.
It isn’t a fight between you and the other person that will lead to pain one way or another.
It’s a conversation between you and someone else designed to create positive change where you understand the other person better.
When we learn to view confrontation as a collaborative effort where we’re working with someone to achieve a win-win outcome, it removes much of the stress and anxiety we experience.
The best way to implement this principle practically during a conversation is to avoid “You” statements and instead express your own truth.
“You’re just trying to take advantage of my hard work!” becomes, “I don’t feel like I’m being properly compensated for the hard work I’m doing given the value I bring.”
“You’re so needy! You never want me to do anything for myself” becomes, “I don’t feel like I’m getting enough time to prioritize myself in our relationship.”
“You’re such an inconsiderate dick!” becomes “When this happens it makes me feel like my needs aren’t top priority.”
By approaching things in this way, you avoid attacking the other person (which will escalate a confrontation and create more defensive walls) and instead focus on the specific problem you’re experiencing.
As we’ll explore in just a minute, this frame doesn’t always guarantee a positive outcome.
But it does stack the deck in your favor.
2. Maintain a Grounded State to Show Strength
In confrontation and in life, the quality of the results you’re able to achieve will typically be determined by a simple decision.
“Will I respond? Or will I react?”
Reactive behavior gives away your power to the other person. It’s stooping to their level rather than elevating them to your own.
They say something hurtful. You hurt them right back.
They raise their voice. You raise yours louder.
They make things personal. You take the bait.
Responsive behavior, on the other hand, is about maintaining control of yourself regardless of how the other person acts.
It’s maintaining strong body language, deep breathing, and a calm state even when emotions rise and the situation becomes more intense.
It isn’t easy to choose response overreaction in the heat of the moment, but it can make all the difference and come across as very attractive.
In my own life, I’ve had confrontations where the other person screamed or swore or–in a few rare instances–even threw something at me.
When I reacted to their aggression, the confrontation always ended poorly with both of us feeling anger and resentment toward the other person.
But when I stayed calm, took a deep breath, and reminded myself of the outcome I was trying to achieve, the resolution was wildly different.
In many cases, the other person would see my response, recognize their own inappropriate behavior, and then apologize for acting out of line.
It isn’t easy to be a grounded man in the heat of the moment. But it’s always worth it.
3. Focus on One Problem at a Time
If you’ve been avoiding a confrontation for an extended period of time, it’s easy to take one minor issue and turn into a lengthy list of every annoyance and perceived injustice you’ve ever experienced.
But to navigate confrontation gracefully, it’s important to focus on a single issue–and the resolution you’re seeking.
You may be tempted to bring up dozens of other situations where you felt hurt, but doing so will only make the other person feel attacked, causing them to retreat or lash out against you with their own list.
Instead, I encourage you to identify and overcome one thing at a time.
By doing so you’ll set a powerful precedent for yourself–proving that confrontation doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating–and gives you the confidence to stand up for yourself in the future.
This requires patience. And it isn’t easy. But addressing problems separately and as they arise will provide the most expedient route to getting your needs met.
4. Tap Into Your Empathy and Be a Good Listener
Remember, everyone in your life is doing the best they can with what they have.
The other person has needs, feeling, and opinions just like you. And until you fully understand their point of view and why they’re acting the way they are, you’ll never be able to overcome your issues together.
So when you enter into a confrontation, create space for the other person to share by staying calm and simply listening.
Don’t interrupt or judge or make them wrong for what they’re feeling. Allow them to speak their truth and reflect back your understanding of what is being said, so the person feels heard and respected.
Not only will you have a better understanding of why they’re acting the way they are, but you’ll have a clearer grasp of what they really want. Their emotions and feelings are valid and even though you may not agree or feel the same way it does not negate from their experience. Your ability to understand them at this level will connect you further.
When both sides feel fully seen and understood, collaboratively compromising becomes much simpler.
For example, you may not realize that your boss is under pressure from their boss and recent budget cuts are crippling his ability to build the team he needs to do his job.
Your partner may be acting needy or clingy because they’re feeling disconnected from you and are worried that you’re going to leave.
Your friend–who isn’t responding to your messages or making any time to hang out–could be going through a challenging season of his relationship or career.
Regardless of the situation, we rarely have a complete understanding of the full stories being played out around us and only view the situation through our lens which is very one sided.
And by taking the time to listen before you speak you’ll be better equipped to navigate the situation together.
5. When All Else Fails, Stand Your Ground
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things escalate or the other party is unwilling to compromise to help you meet your needs.
Although in my experience, this is often the exception, not the rule, it does happen.
Boundaries that you’ve reinforced will continue to be crossed. Explicit requests will be ignored. Your unwillingness to cave to someone else’s demands may breed resentment or even end a relationship.
When this happens, it’s important to stand your ground.
Remember, they’re just one person. And the fact that they aren’t willing to honor or acknowledge your needs doesn’t make them any less valid.
So if you don’t feel like a specific confrontation has been resolved, you have every right to respond with strength (not react with anxiety) accordingly.
If your boss or client is unwilling to help you increase your pay and refuses to recognize your contribution, it may be time to find a new job or client and move on.
If your partner repeatedly crosses a boundary regardless of how many times you state or reinforce it, the partnership may have run its course.
If your neighbor turns the music up even louder when you politely ask them to turn it down and it’s disturbing your peace, you have every right to file a noise complaint.
Although you should try your best to exhaust other options before pursuing more direct action, there are situations where it’s absolutely warranted.
If all else fails, hold your ground. Remember that your needs matter. And be willing to take the action necessary to achieve the outcomes you desire in life.
Conclusion: Dealing with Confrontation for Men
Few of us were taught how to handle conflict like a strong man.
And while there are no guarantees or easy answers, there are proven principles we can deploy to communicate more effectively and create a win-win scenario for everyone involved.
By implementing some of the conflict resolution strategies shared in this article, you’ll be better equipped to handle confrontation both big and small in every area of your life.
And if you still struggle with avoidance and getting your need met, then I encourage you to check out this free training I created for men.
Inside of this masterclass, I share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned after coaching thousands of men for the past decade on becoming the strongest version of yourself and building an epic relationship.