Fear of confrontation is the fear of any conflict-related situation, created either by you or someone else. People who have fear of confrontation tend to avoid expressing their feelings or rights if they feel it might end up in a conflict. They also hate anything that feels like a social drama. When being confronted, they would rather “lose” just to end the conflict situation, even if they know they are right.
The fear of conflict is common, especially among those with social anxiety, negative past experiences, being bullied, low self-confidence, and general shyness.. You might worry about saying something that others will disagree with or have general fears about doing things that will annoy or bother other people.
Although avoiding conflict alleviates your anxiety in the short term, in the long term it perpetuates your fear that you can’t handle situations involving conflict.
Is It Better To Confront Or Ignore?
It is true that avoiding conflict provides a sense of ease, yet it encourages thoughts that you are not able to handle conflicts at all (and that it’s best to run away every single time). But we live in a social world where conflicts, confrontations, and disagreements are practically impossible to avoid completely. In many cases, living with the fear of confrontation is actually a problem, because it leads to avoidance, low self-esteem, and unsolved life issues.
Therefore learning how to overcome the fear of confrontation, how to be assertive (not aggressive!) when dealing with disagreements, how to stand your ground when someone is trying to take advantage of you, is an important step to take in life.
Tips To Overcome Fear Of Confrontation & Conflict
If you want to overcome the fear of confrontation, you will first have to analyze the way you think (I know, I sound like a broken record, but many things DO stem from your mindset, it’s just how it is). Analyze your behavior in the face of a possible conflict. Make a list of reasons why you avoid confrontations. This might include reasons like:
- the fear to speak up and state your arguments;
- the fear of being perceived as a rude person;
- fear of losing something;
- fear that another person will hurt you.
All of these are legit reasons to feel the fear of confrontation and it’s OK to feel that way – you don’t need to judge yourself.
Making a list like that will ease your mind and allow you to calmly assess your behavior.
The Benefits Of Actually Standing Up For Yourself
Fear of confrontation can be very intense and prevent you from standing up for yourself every single time. To gradually change that, imagine yourself being proactive in a conflict, instead of staying silent and avoiding confrontation. Think about what you would say, what would happen, and what you might get in return. Be clear about all the things you would GAIN by dealing with a conflict. Write down everything that crosses your mind.
A few ideas from my own list:
If I face my fear of confrontation, I will:
- Feel more confident the next time something similar happens;
- Possibly turn the situation in my favor;
- Prevent being pushed by other people;
- Speak out my opinion and not feel oppressed;
- Practice dealing with angry people in a calm and civilized way;
- Know that I didn’t back out and stood up for myself.
This will empower you and make things easier for you to deal with when the fear of confrontation arises.
Think About Your Fear
In most situations, fear appears when we imagine a negative outcome in a specific social situation. And for people who are anxious, imagining the worst-case scenario is almost an automatic thing to do.
Let’s say you tell yourself constantly that ‘confrontation is dangerous’. This statement is creating negative scenarios in your head, which then fuel your fear of confrontation, leading to avoidance and an urge to run from harsh situations.
But if you take a moment to consider it, the truth is that confrontation is something human beings do all the time and it is rather healthy for our mind, unless you’re being aggressive about it. Finding positive ways to address a conflict is what makes our brain sharp and expressing our opinion leads to improved situations.
So, next time you experience the need to run away from conflict, don’t! Instead, state your opinion in a calm manner, add some pros and cons, and express your feelings about how it made you feel.
Tackle One Problem At A Time
The key to overcoming fear of confrontation is addressing one problem at a time. Start with small problems or conflicts and build your courage towards facing the bigger ones. This is a constructive way of expressing your thoughts while allowing the other person to get a glimpse of your point of view.
Improve Your Conflict Resolution Skills
Learning how to handle conflicts in a diplomatic and calm way is essential if you want to overcome the fear of confrontation. Just imagine how much confidence you would have if you simply knew the best ways to deal with an angry person, a difficult opinion, or when being a target yourself.
The best way to learn all of this, by reading a few books that have all the knowledge gathered in one place.
Speak In First-Person Terms
This is a very useful tip for people who have fear of confrontation and find themselves in the eye of a rising conflict.
Usually, people tend to feel threatened by expressions that start with ‘you did something wrong’. On the other hand, ‘I’ statements are meant to ease the tension and are great for dealing with conflicts without making them worse.
So when you’re dealing with a conflict, instead of stating something like ‘it is your fault we didn’t do this because it was you who missed the deadline’, you can say ‘it upsets me that we did not complete this on time and I was wondering if there are any issues we could discuss’. Calm, assertive statements are great for delivering your message and, at the same time, they allow you to talk about your feelings.
Remember that anger will only fuel conflicts, so when in a conflict, keep things simple and say exactly what you think and feel, but in a calm and respectable way.
Being Nice Is Not Always The Best Way
You’re probably the nicest person in the world and, at some point in your life or career, someone took advantage of your kindness and made you feel awful.
It is important for you to understand that when people are angry (like in a conflict situation), they use any means necessary to overpower you. Additionally, when people feel scared (of being wrong, of losing something, of admitting their mistake), they will do anything to protect themselves and their ego. Therefore, being nice is kind of out of the question when dealing with conflicts and you have to be OK with this.
Now, we’re not telling you to go all loco and start putting war paint on your face… Just keep up a respectful attitude, filled with good intentions. State your thoughts clearly, but do not pamper every word as a nice person would. Do not try to make it sound nice if it is not.
Fear Of Confrontation Is a Constant Learning Curve
You have to teach yourself how to speak up and deal with intense feelings. How to stop imagining the worst. How to work on a constructive solution. But it is NOT impossible and moreover – these are very important things to learn. We are all humans, we all make mistakes. And we have to learn to accept the mistakes of others and admit those of your own – in a calm, brave and civilized way.
One way to gradually overcome your fear of conflict is to face the situations that cause you anxiety. This process is known as exposure therapy and is usually carried out as part of a larger treatment program like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, you can practice exposures on your own as part of a self-help plan.
This means starting out with situations that cause you the least anxiety and eventually working up to what causes you the most fear.
You can practice these exposures either in real life (in vivo) or in your imagination to start.
If you find it difficult to construct the exact scenarios that cause you fear, visualizing them might be the better option. Eventually, however, you will want to experience those situations in real life.
How to Practice It Safely
Unlike other exposures, those involving conflict with others carries the potential to cause other people to become impatient or irate. Remember to approach each situation using assertive behaviors (rather than an aggressive stance) and choose situations where there is little risk.
For example, don’t practice conflict exposures with someone who you fear could become overly agitated.
Also remember that the point of these exposures is to increase your ability to tolerate the conflict, and a likely result is that you will inconvenience others.