“Know that the most neurotic, most ugly situation is simply testing you. It is testing capacity, beyond his control, your flexibility, your adjustment and your character.” - Yogi Bhajan
Most people avoid uncomfortable situations—and especially ones that involve any form of perceived ‘confrontation’. The mere word itself conjures feelings of tension, anxiety, fear, anger, and stress and creates a physical contraction in my body even as I write this article with no intention of being confrontational at all. This is how powerful the energy of words is. But what if we took a big exhale and stepped back to look at why navigating the space around—and dealing with—confrontation is a powerful practice that can strengthen your personal will and improve your well-being and relationships.
1. People appreciate the truth.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General examined different groups of subjects who had to be 100% honest in different situations and relationship dynamics over a varied period of time. Interestingly, researchers found that whilst most people tend to shy away from the truth when engaged in a confrontation, the researchers concluded that “Honesty is not as unpleasant or isolating as it seems, and in fact, may promote meaning and long-term growth. People can handle the truth.” And so the research shows that while speaking the truth might take you to your edge, it brings a lot of value and people appreciate your honesty.
2. Speaking up reminds you that ‘You’ matter.
Often enough, if you’re the type that shies away from confrontation, even a situation like not being served the dish you ordered is enough for you to pull the ‘confrontation handbrake’ and you choose to eat in silence rather than ‘create a fuss’. But actually, standing up for yourself and speaking your truth is a powerful reminder that you matter, that you are worth it and your voice counts. Furthermore, if the perceived confrontation is a little heavier than getting the wrong dish at dinner, not speaking up and sweeping bigger issues under the carpet can lead to psychological effects. Holding on to emotions like feeling unhappy, disgruntled and stressed can create dis-ease in the body and if not released or expressed, will manifest in other forms.
3. Creates a healthier you.
Storing unexpressed emotions associated with confrontation such as fear, anger, self-worth, doubt and sadness can affect you (subconsciously, more often) on a physical, mental and emotional level. Stuck emotions can manifest in the body, for example as stiffness in the shoulders or tightness in the hips. It can also affect your sleeping and eating patterns. Or you might find yourself choosing food, alcohol, drugs or other means to forget the stress and numb the pain. Just because you don’t address something, doesn’t mean it will go away. Learn to listen to non-verbal cues from your body and notice your behavioural patterns, these hints are signals to be heeded and could help you overcome your resistance to confrontation.
4. You could be helping someone.
Sometimes it’s necessary to have hard conversations with someone in order to give more information about a situation that they may not be aware about. Take, for example, you find out that your best friend has a partner who is being unfaithful or your new-found partner has dinner table habits that you simply need to speak to them about. And while your intentions are pure, always remember to never assume to know anything about the person or situation you are addressing and always position yourself from a place of compassion and love. This will help you speak from the heart with non-judgment and genuine kindness in wanting to assist the person you’re speaking to, rather than confronting them with an ‘I-know-better’ attitude or coming across as being ‘sibuk’ (a busybody) as we say here in Malaysia.
5. Strengthens relationships.
And if you make it through without being called sibuk, you may realise that being honest, compassionate and non-judgmental can take your relationship with your friends, family and partners a long way. Learning to trust your own voice and to keep your communication 100% truthful, conscious and led with integrity and compassion can turn around a ‘scary’ confrontational conversation into one of mutual respect, support and long-term growth. That said, be prepared if the other person reacts with confrontation or anger as they may not ready or willing to hear what you have to say even though your intentions are pure. In situations like these, realise that how they are reacting is their choice and not something you have any control of. Allow them their space and time to process and be aware that some relationships may not fully recover.
With all these benefits of speaking up in mind, you might even want to consider redefining ‘confrontation’ and call it an opportunity instead. An opportunity that is here to reveal a learning or even a gift to take away from. And if you choose, you could take every opportunity as a test to see how you can step into leading an unfamiliar or uncomfortable conversation or situation with deep confidence, an open heart and a non-reactive mind.