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Mental Health

Expert Advice: How Can I Handle Confrontation?

Outsmart your fears and learn to express yourself.

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Society often casts women who speak up for themselves as aggressive or overly emotional, making us wary of setting boundaries or expressing our needs. Here, our experts share some easy ways to handle confrontation and advocate for yourself with confidence.

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Meet our expert panel

  • Barbara Pachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation, is a business etiquette and communications coach. Learn more at Pachter.com.
  • Margie Warrell, PhD, author of You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself, is an international speaker on courage in leadership.
  • Dorie Cameron, LICSW, is a certified internal family systems (IFS) therapist and author of the new book Why Did You Do That? More at MetroWestTherapy.com.

Learn what’s in your way.

“One of the key reasons we avoid confrontation is that we’re afraid to hurt someone’s feelings,” reveals expert Barbara Pachter. “But the truth is, most people who care about you will understand.” Another reason is that we don’t feel we have the right to say something. “Of course, you do! It’s just how you say it, kindly yet assertively.” Last, we fear what might happen. “Just choose your conversations carefully — if something offends your values, it’s likely worth it to say something.”

Focus on intentions.

Simply reframe the loaded word “confrontation” to “crucial conversation,” advises expert Margie Warrell, PhD. “Ask yourself, What’s the highest intention for this conversation? — it may be that you want to provide someone with feedback or set firmer boundaries,” she says. It’s also key to ask yourself, How is this going to help the other person? “When we summon the courage to face an issue, we’re giving the other person an opportunity to better themselves and your bond.”

Rehearse for success.

Before broaching a difficult subject, calm your nervous system and melt stress by taking a few deep breaths, encourages expert Dorie Cameron. “Once you’re relaxed, remind yourself that you can handle this, and mentally rehearse your conversation.” To do that, pinpoint a specific change you want the person to make, adds Pachter. “If your friend is always late, for example, you might ask her to call you from now on if she’s running behind schedule.” Just picturing a positive outcome is central to your success.

Cue softening statements.

Extend the person an invite by saying, “There’s something I really need to talk to you about, ideally in-person. Is that okay?” suggests Warrell. This helps you gain their trust and have a deeper discussion. Then open with kindhearted “softening statements,” adds Pachter. “You might say, ‘I know you meant no harm but…’ or ‘I’m sure you’re not aware of it…’” It’s very hard for people to respond defensively when we’re respectful. “This strategy is polite yet powerful, and it makes a huge difference.”

Share the facts.

It helps to stay as objective as possible, notes Warrell. “Put the facts first, as in, ‘Yesterday, you said X…’ or ‘Last week, you forgot to…’ Then move into how those actions impacted you. For example, you might say, ‘I can’t help but feel let down or hurt or frustrated.’ Then invite them to share their perspective: ‘I really want to understand how you see this.’” Finally, “focus forward” by being clear on where you want to go from here.

Be true to you.

In the end, we’re only responsible for ourselves. “Be careful not to let the other person’s actions dictate yours,” says Warrell. “Set the time you want to talk and make sure you’re in the right head and heart space.” And if they get upset, it’s okay to call a time-out. “Being kind to yourself will ensure you have meaningful conversations that improve all your relationships.”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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