It’s common for discussions to turn into arguments, but when that happens, the conversation is unlikely to be productive. Knowing how to handle confrontation before things get out of hand can help you and the other person, whether that person is a roommate, sibling, friend, or romantic partner, both express your needs effectively.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Confrontation
It’s important to know when confrontation is toxic compared to “fair fighting” that occurs in healthy relationships. Every relationship has its ups and downs. Having occasional arguments doesn’t mean it’s an unhealthy relationship. This article primarily focuses on mostly balanced, healthy relationships with moments of confrontation. If your discussions or arguments always feel one-sided, or there’s a pattern of confrontation and aggression, you may be in a toxic or unhealthy relationship. For more information on what toxic relationships look like and what you can do about it, read this blog post on how to let go of a toxic relationship.
If you actively avoid confrontation, it typically means that you aren’t expressing your needs. Often people will refrain from stating their needs because they fear it will lead to an argument, but what ends up happening is they become passive aggressive, anxious, and resentful. You can only keep your feelings bottled up for so long before you explode and an argument occurs anyway. Although avoiding confrontation may seem tempting, it doesn’t allow for a balanced, healthy relationship where both people’s needs are met. For tips on how to express yourself and set healthy boundaries, read this blog post on how avoiding confrontation can lead to having anxiety.
How to Have a Productive Conversation and Minimize Confrontation
Like I said above, even good, healthy relationships can experience arguing every once in a while. Here are some tips on what to do when a conversation turns into confrontation so you and the other person can have your needs met.
Recognize When Things Are Getting Heated
It’s important to notice the signs of when a discussion is turning into an argument. Having self-awareness and awareness of how the other person is feeling and behaving can help you either prevent the conversation from escalating into confrontation or know that you both need to cool off before you can return to having a more productive conversation.
Common tell-tale signs in yourself and the other person include increasing volume, using words and phrases that are not meaningful (and perhaps hurtful), clenching, body temperature rising, talking over each other, and not listening. If you notice any of these warning signs of frustration and anger building, that’s a good point to take a time out, not after it escalates into yelling.
Table the Conversation
If you’re noticing the warning signs of frustration and anger building, that’s a good point to take a time out, not after it escalates into yelling. But even if you are in a screaming match and tempers are high, that’s a cue that the conversation needs to be tabled. When you’re yelling, everything is going over your head. Hearing goes down the more the volume goes up.
Go back to the conversation later. Take a step back, take a breath, and say to the other person, “Things are getting heated. We need to take time to step away from the conversation and cool off. Let’s think about what was said and come back to it tonight/tomorrow (pick a specific time so you can hold each other accountable and finish what you started).”
A boundary needs to be set so that you have time to cool off, think about each other’s points, and come back at a dedicated time. Don’t just shove it under the rug, walk away, slam the door, etc. The other person will feel abandoned. When you table a conversation, it’s not left hanging – it’s just a pause. It’s OK to have those pauses. Tabling is not the same thing as avoidance. You are allowed to do things in increments – it doesn’t have to be all at once. You don’t have to fix it right then and there. When you table the conversation, both people have to respect that. Don’t force finishing the conversation now. Respect the space and boundary. Then backtrack, start the conversation off right, and see what you can do after you both have cooled off.
Listen More, React Less
It’s important to express your feelings and needs and give the other person the space to do so, as well. If it’s a one-sided confrontation, someone isn’t getting the chance to express themselves. Stepping back and really listening to what the other person is saying will help steer the conversation in the right direction. They’ll appreciate you giving them the space to listen, and will be more likely to reciprocate.
During confrontation, it’s common for one or both people to not truly listen. What often happens is that you are thinking about your reaction to what the other person is saying. When you’re planning what to say in your head, you’re not listening. This turns the conversation into confrontation. You’re arming yourself. You can’t plan and rehearse what you are going to say and fully listen to what the other person is saying at the same time. Acknowledge what they are saying and empathize with them.
Learn How to Express Yourself
Therapy isn’t just for people who have a diagnosable mental illness. Therapists can support you and help guide you through all of life’s issues so you can be happier and healthier. If you are struggling with expressing your needs and having productive conversations, Dr. Heather Violante can help you find that middle ground between yelling and bottling it up. Dr. Violante provides teletherapy (online video therapy) to adults living in New York and Florida who are ready to make positive changes in their life. Contact her online or call 754-333-1484 today to learn more.