I have a confession. For a while now, I’ve been using the Close Friends feature on Instagram. If we’re close and you’re not part of it and wondering why, it’s for your own good, trust me. For me, my Close Friends list is the closest thing I have to a trusted therapist. There are only like nine people there, and I mention wins/losses/thoughts/traumas that I’m not otherwise comfortable sharing.
For some people, adding others to their close friends doesn’t mean much.
Despite that, I blush a little every time I see someone has added me to their Close Friends list.
A while back, I shared some petty stuff (I’m human!) in my Close Friends stories. I captioned it with: “I love confrontation!!!!!!!”
My friend replied: “You’re such an Aries 😂!”
I’m still not as knowledgeable as I’d like in astrology and how the Moon affects our moods, but if loving confrontation is a trait of ours, call me Ari…es. Anyway.
This hasn’t always been the case. I used to dread asking others what was wrong or discuss issues openly.
Communicating and acting assertively is an interpersonal skill that helps people to maintain healthy relationships, resolve interpersonal conflict, and prevent one’s needs from being stifled or repressed.Assertive Communication information handout from Psychology Tools
Hard conversations are necessary and healthy, yet so many of us avoid them like the plague. Too soon for pandemic references? Yeah.
Why do people avoid confrontation
Remember when Nicki Minaj publicly called out Miley Cyrus at the VMAs? People who dread confrontation might’ve felt uncomfortable just watching that exchange, let alone think of doing something similar themselves.
People avoid confrontation because it’s stressful and we tend to avoid stressful situations. There are many physical components to it as well. Our muscles tense up, our heart beats faster, our throat feels tingly.
There’s also a fear of being misunderstood. We might fear that the way we choose to solve the issue at hand will cause our boss or our girlfriend to say: “You’re fired” or “I’m breaking up with you,” respectively.
We consider potential losses bigger than desired outcomes. So, we decide to sweep it under the rug, to let it go once more. However, relationships are rarely this fragile. If speaking up about an issue that bothers you causes the other person to take extreme measures, like breakups or layoffs, then that relationship was hanging on a thread anyway. Rest assured, your decision to not put up with shit anymore wasn’t the reason it ended.
Lastly, people avoid confrontation because of the fear of hurting the other person. We dread hurting their feelings, bruising their egos, affecting their confidence. We decide to carry on with our own confusion, embarrassment, and hurt instead. Especially with family members or friends we’ve had for years, it may be harder to speak up because of the nature of the relationship and the established patterns.
Well, if there are such significant downsides to it, why do it in the first place? Why do people pleasers and those of us who care a little too much about the way others see us seek support, tools, and resources to learn how to communicate assertively?
How hard conversations help you grow & why you should have them as often as needed
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I struggled to speak up for myself for years.
Until I learned to put myself first, I was never truly free. Compromise often comes with an expensive price tag. See, we think that we’re saving or honoring our relationships by avoiding arguments, but challenging conversations help us and our relationships grow.
Cultural contexts and typical communication styles
In the Indonesian cultural context, confrontation is considered rude, aggressive, and disrespectful. Open disagreement, particularly in a group forum, is strongly avoided. Even asking another’s point of view can feel confrontational in our culture.Managing Confrontation in Multicultural Teams, Erin Meyer for the Harvard Business Review
Many of us encounter passive and aggressive communicators. Especially in confrontation-avoiding cultures, we don’t tend to come across assertive styles as much.
- Aggressive communication is easy to spot. Someone with an aggressive communication style doesn’t care about or take into account other people’s feelings in a discussion. They get heated up quickly, raise their voice, resort to personal insults, bully, and may use psychological manipulation to turn the conversation into something it’s not. Selfish.
- Passive communicators are unable to stand up for themselves and their views. They might not even express their feelings but are willing to quickly “let it go” when they do. It’s hard for them to make decisions and to show anger, even when it’s righteous. Usually immature, submissive, and self-conscious.
I’ve done both 🙁
Example of different communication styles
So, let’s say a friend of yours suggests going to the bar he likes, you went twice already this week. You’re not that keen on that bar, he loves it, and you actually felt like doing something else entirely tonight, going to the movies or to that gallery opening.
Aggressive communicators may say: Man, we’re always doing what you want to do. Why do you think that your opinion matters more than mine? I’ve had it with always doing what you want. From now on, I get to decide what we’re going cuz you always propose the same boring things.
Passive communicators may say: Ummm, uh, I was thinking maybe we… Oh whatever, yeah, okay, let’s go there.
Assertive communicators may say: I feel like we’ve been stuck in a rut this week as far as our activities and places we frequent go. That bar hasn’t perfected their Margaritas or Mojitos, and you know how I feel about those. Since you like it there, I don’t mind going from time to time, but I’d prefer it if we alternated between things and places we both like so we both have a great time. That said, I heard about this exciting gallery opening tonight, wanna go there?
There are many variations of what someone who communicates clearly and assertively might say, depending on the situation, the type of relationship, how frequent the pattern is. There also combinations of these communication styles, like passive-aggressive.
We shouldn’t avoid confrontation because every difficult conversation holds within itself an immense power for growth, for bringing two people closer and their relationship to a deeper level of knowing and loving.
If we approach issues in an “us vs. problem” way rather than “me against you,” we can use every argument and disagreement as a golden chance to improve our friendships, relationships, and careers.
Low doses of assertiveness correlate with low satisfaction in relationships and low self-esteem (Speed, Goldstein & Goldfried, 2018).
When we avoid difficult conversations, we also inadvertently avoid deep, soul-touching, fulfilling relationships.
I’m not saying you should make up scenarios so you can have difficult conversations with your friend, partner, manager. When issues come up, though, I hope you won’t shy away in the hope they’ll solve themselves.
TMI, but I used to be in a relationship where my boyfriend at the time and me would get in huge fights almost weekly. While I knew this wasn’t right, I believed at the time that it happened because we loved each other too much.
The more confident you become and the more clearly you see your worth, the more you’ll gravitate towards people that share your values, which means the fewer arguments and fights you’ll have.
A framework to keep in mind if you want to communicate assertively like an adult
There’s a lot to be said when it comes to tips for communicating clearly and assertively, below there’s a model I like.
SBI feedback – Situation, Behavior, Impact
- Start by clearly describing the situation from your point of view. The same thing can happen to two different people, and they can have completely different views and perceptions on it.
- Talk about the behavior you have a problem with. Keep in mind to use “I” statements- “I feel,” “I think,” “I believe.” Try to avoid words like “always” and “never.”
- Explain the impact their behavior has on you. Clearly explain the consequences and how they affect you, the other person needs to see it from your point of view.
When you don’t allow your anger or emotions to get in the way, you can clearly communicate what’s wrong and then see how much the other person respects you and the relationship.
If you’re used to passive or aggressive communication, my advice is to start small and go steady. In this case, you could try to communicate assertively with someone you consider “safe”, regarding a small issue at first. After you get comfortable doing that, you can start communicating assertively with people that are more triggering and about important issues that concern you.
Remember: Your statements and beliefs don’t have to be threatening. Honesty doesn’t have to be brutal. Kind and assertive aren’t mutually exclusive.