Many of us have been through it before: someone we know well offends us or hurts our feelings. At first, it’s just a single incident, but then it starts to repeat. Eventually, we realize the issue isn’t just an occasional unpleasantry, rather it’s a limitation in our friend’s personality. For example, a friend who is chronically late; or a friend who asks for favors without being willing to reciprocate; or a friend who makes offensive comments or judgments about how you raise your children; etc.
Confrontation can be nerve-racking. One of the concerns many people have with confronting others is that addressing an issue will somehow make you appear less accepting of your friend — as if taking issue with your friend is the real problem. Another concern is that people fear confrontation will hurt a person’s feelings, which then could lead to the situation reversing and the friend being mad at us.
However, let’s look at it from another perspective for a moment.
What if a friend approached you about a frustrating habit of yours and mentioned that it’s upsetting to them? Would you be annoyed, or would you be be glad they told you? People generally don’t like to hurt or upset people, so most actually would want to know if they were hurting another person.
How Avoiding Confrontation Hurts Us
When we avoid confrontation, it leaves us vulnerable to several emotional possibilities, including stress and frustration from having our feelings hurt, anger and resentment towards our friends for being disrespectful and inconsiderate of us, and rumination based on how to move out of harm’s way of our friend’s issue while avoiding being direct about it.
It’s important that we are able to confront our friends when necessary in order to maintain a healthy balance of respect within our friendships. While it takes courage to have conversations that advocate for ourselves, if we are unable to confront, it sets up the environment to allow us to be walked on by others. The trick to confrontation is to make sure we do it without reversing the dynamic. We don’t want to simply go from being run over to running them over. That just starts a new problem.
Here are a few suggestions for confronting issues with friends:
1) Plan in advance. In order to avoid saying things we may regret, especially if confrontation makes us nervous, it will be helpful to go in knowing what we want to say. Eventually this step may become less necessary as we become more comfortable with addressing issues in the moment.
2) Be genuine. It’s good to stick to the point with confrontation. When we feel nervous, it’s easy to allow defense mechanisms to take over. These can include things like sarcasm, blame, criticism, etc. We may think we’re being light-hearted about the issue in order to soothe nervous emotions, but often this isn’t experienced the same on both sides. Being direct and genuine will keep clarity between you and your friend about the issue.
3) Speak in “I” statements. It’s important to relay our own experience and what we are feeling. For example, “I feel hurt when you don’t show up for our lunch dates. I’m very excited to see you, and I end up disappointed when you don’t show up.” Obviously, we need to say the word “you” in order to relay what it is that our friend is doing that’s hurting us, but be careful not to be blaming.
4) Know what you want out of it. If you’re going through the effort of confronting a friend, it’s likely that you have a desired result of some sort. Knowing what you want to get from the conversation will help you approach with this in mind. For example, maybe you want your friend to accept when you need to say ‘no’ to a request without receiving a guilt trip for it; or maybe you want your friend to accept how you raise your children, even if they disagree; etc.
5) Acceptance when the conversation doesn’t go well. Unfortunately, sometimes despite your best efforts, your friend may end up feeling criticized simply by having the conversation. Your job here isn’t to engage in a battle. When your friend doesn’t respond as you hope, your main job is to make sure that you’ve relayed the issue, even if it may take a little time and space before it clears up. Remember that you can’t control someone else’s feelings, you can only do your part to make sure you’re being respectful, sensitive, and mindful of the other person.
6) Never email or text your confrontation. This is a recipe for disaster. Texts and emails rarely end up being read with the same tone and inflection that we imagine when we write it. While people often like to hide behind the written word for emotional safety, it rarely works out the way we hope, and usually makes the issue worse.
It’s unrealistic to expect that we’ll always be happy with our friends, and vice versa. However, gaining the ability to effectively stand up for your needs will help open up an environment of communication, respect, and mindfulness of each other’s feelings, which will be more likely to strengthen the foundation of your friendship.