How To: Handle Confrontation

“I’m just really bad at confrontation. I’ll do anything I can to avoid it.”


I would say I’ve heard that sentiment, verbatim, from most of my female friends, throughout my entire life. Whether it’s a personality trait, or the result of a gendered social education, many girls and women simply don’t like engaging in real, honest confrontation. With each other, with authority figures, with men, with their parents, with their bosses, with their roommates, with pretty much anyone.

It’s an integral aspect of the structure of expectations women are constantly, and precariously, balancing atop of, without swaying too wildly or, God forbid, falling off completely; the expectations put upon us by society, by history, by men, even by ourselves. We’re supposed to be polite, non-threatening, agreeable. We say “sorry” twenty times a day, apologizing for voicing opinions in conference rooms and maneuvering around people in the grocery store. The very concept, let alone the action, of confrontation doesn’t fit into that structure. Are the women I’ve known actually bad at confrontation, or just conditioned to believe so?

In the end, I think handling conflict is difficult, not just for women, but for many humans who simply don’t enjoy being vulnerable. We don’t like putting ourselves and our issues out there, afraid of what might or might not come back at us. But, this is life, and sometimes, shit hits the fan. Now, say you find yourself in a situation with that feces-covered fan. Your immediate instinct is to probably GTFO, because it stinks and you’d really rather not deal with it. But that poop fan isn’t going away, and the sooner you deal with it, the better. You don’t want it to become all crusty and covered in flies. Albus Dumbledore said it best, in his tear-jerking eulogy of Cedric Diggory, “We must all face the choice between what it right, and what is easy.” Cleaning the poop fan isn’t easy, but it’s damn sure the right thing to do.

The first step to handling confrontation is to confront the fear of confrontation. Probably the most difficult part of the process.

Why are you afraid? Why don’t you want to confront your roommate about drinking your uber-fancy almond milk?

I’ve found that the best question to ask yourself is:

“what’s the worst that could happen?”

Try coming up with two worst case scenarios: “catastrophe” and “not ideal, but whatever.”

“Catastrophe” is the most horrifying series of events that could possibly occur, and 99% of the time, your fictionalized catastrophe isn’t going to happen. Your roommate isn’t going to get so enraged that you asked her to please respect your food that she pours your delicious almond milk all over the carpet and then sets your hair on fire.

“Not ideal, but whatever” should be a bit more realistic, and a situation that might be uncomfortable, but you’ll get over it. Maybe your roommate gets upset because she thought it wasn’t a big deal, and that you’re being dramatic or nitpicky. Not ideal, but you’ll both move on and, (hopefully) let it go.



But what if the conflict is bigger than milk products? What if you have to confront your girlfriend for cheating on you, or your best friend for saying something that hurt you? These are the confrontations that take their toll, the ones that necessitate a pep talk because of the emotional and psychological consequences.

Again, just apply your new non-confrontational tactic. Imagine both a “catastrophe” and a “not ideal, but whatever,” but this time, really think about what you want the end result to look like.

What does your ideal solution involve? Do you want to break up with your girlfriend for cheating, or is it something you think you can forgive? If your bestie doesn’t apologize for hurting you, is she someone you can continue to trust?

You might not find an answer to these questions, but thinking about yourself and your feelings can remind you of why you have to woman up and confront that individual, and give you the incentive you need to power through the discomfort when the time comes.


Now that we’ve gone over the mental preparation, it’s time to discuss the pre-confrontation, the part that twists your stomach, the moment where you decide between fight or flight. It’s the moment when your adrenaline starts pumping, and easy vs. right start fist fighting in your brain.


Don’t retreat back into your bedroom and save it for another time, or convince yourself that it’s not a big deal and force yourself to get over it. If something is bothering you, say something. Find a method that works for you.

If you need to psych yourself up, pound some music or do some jumping jacks. Some people are fans of taking a shot of whiskey, but I can’t really promote that you drink alcohol to up your bravery. I do not recommend drunk confrontations, but if you need that jolt of liquid courage, you do you. (Unless you’re underage *obviously*) Just don’t overdo you.

If you’re too hyped up or emotional pre-confrontation, try going for a run to get rid of adrenaline, or taking a relaxing shower to calm your nerves. You know, yoga, stretching, mindfulness, that sort of thing.
If you’re nervous, you can also try rehearsing what you’re going to say, or calling up a friend to practice the conversation with you. This type of role-playing will get you in the right mindset, and help alleviate some tension. Going over the situation with a third party can also be helpful and offer perspective. Other people will often give you examples of their own experiences with confrontation, and the reminder that it’s not a unique experience can soothe your pre-confrontation anxiety. Then, you just have to dive in.


The actual confrontation is probably the easiest part. You’ve spent so much time worrying and overthinking and backtracking, but once you’re in the midst of the conflict, all of that seems to fade away. If you’re clear on why you’re upset and what you want, you should find that expressing yourself comes naturally. But it takes two to tango, and no matter how clear or logical or emotionally vulnerable you are, you cannot control how the other person behaves or reacts. Realize that while things might not turn out the way you want them to, standing up for yourself and being honest, being vulnerable is something to be proud of.

Then there’s the female layer of confrontation. As women, we have to learn to let go of perception, of that structure of expectations. If confrontation isn’t “womanly” or “ladylike”, how are we ever supposed to speak up for ourselves, fight for what we deserve, or learn to handle conflict when it inevitably arises? Don’t worry about how others might see you; I can’t say it enough – if something is bothering you, say something.

Unfortunately, there are limits to who, where, when, why, and how we confront other people. Wanting to confront the jackass that catcalls you on the street or the guy that won’t leave you alone at the bar might feel like the right thing to do, but we also have to recognize the inherent danger in those situations as well. When it comes to your safety, carefully tread the line between confrontation and letting it go, unfair as it might be. You need to listen to your gut in those instances, and gauge whether or not confronting the guy who’s harassing you will be the right, and safe, move.


Looking for more?

How To: Take Care of Yourself Through Hardship

How To: Argue Rationally and Not Lose Friends

How To: Get Comfortable With Public Speaking

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