When learning about conflict and dispute resolution, it can be difficult to understand the definition of “confrontational.” Everyone will have their ideas of what confrontation is and its uses, particularly dependent on their own conflict style and how it responds to confrontation. Some people will argue that a confrontation is a valuable tool in a conflict resolution specialist’s kit, but others will feel that all confrontation is harmful. Much of this has to do with their definition of confrontational. Defining the term can be difficult because one person’s confrontation will be another’s honesty, but thinking about the basic characteristics that are present in a confrontational interaction or personality, a working definition can be established. Understanding these key characteristics can help negotiators avoid confrontation when needed and use it when necessary. It also helps those who are conflict adverse realize when an interaction is confrontational and when it is only the perception of confrontation. Learning about confrontation allows the parties to be better negotiators and problem solvers, resolving more disputes overall.
A Working Definition of Confrontational:
Many of the dictionary definitions of “confrontational” include words like “aggressive,” “hostile,” “argumentative,” “angry,” and “unfriendly.” This falls in line with the overall opinion of what confrontation is and how it affects others. However, these types of definitions often overlook aspects of confrontational actions and personalities that can add value to conflict resolution and can aid in the way that conflict is resolved. Several characteristics of confrontational actions are:
- Direct: Confrontation is a direct method of acting and problem-solving. When someone is confrontational, they will face the problem head-on rather than trying to avoid the problem or softly bringing up the problem. When confrontational actions are present in a conflict, all people in the conversation will know what the conflict is about.
- Persistent: Another aspect of confrontation is the persistence that it will adopt. When people are in confrontational headspaces, they will not allow the issue to simmer or be ignored. Confrontation will bring up the issue repeatedly to ensure that it is fully resolved and everyone involved has a full understanding of the resolution.
- Acknowledges: Confrontation acknowledges the issue between the parties or in the dispute from the beginning. While other styles may try and ignore the issue, it cannot be missed when there is a confrontational person in the room. Additionally, a confrontational person may see other conflicts that are not as obvious because they feel the need to address them. Because of this, there will be a full picture of the conflict and a full resolution.
To help understand what confrontational is, it is also important to consider what it is not. Confrontation is not aggressive by nature. While some confrontation can be aggressive, not all confrontation is aggressive. Similarly, not all confrontational behavior is anger. These distinctions are important to note because it is common for people to immediately go into aggression and anger when considering confrontation. Considering all of these characteristics together, a working definition of confrontational could be, “A style of conflict resolution that acknowledges all conflict present directly and persistently.”
Confrontational as a Conflict Style:
How a person responds to conflict is called their conflict style. There are several styles of dealing with conflict, and many of them run counter to each other. When thinking about conflict resolution styles and confrontational styles, it is easier to see what being confrontational means when the style is compared to the avoidant style, as they tend to be opposite of each other. Some of the biggest differences will be:
- Initiating Discussion: Where a person who avoids conflict will do everything to stay away from the conflict, confrontational people will dive in and attempt to solve it. Avoidant people will sidestep and agree to avoid the conflict, while confrontational people will sometimes disagree to encourage a discussion, even if they are not in full agreement with the position.
- View of Conflict: Avoidant styles see conflict as a bad thing that cannot be good for the relationship, no matter what kind. Conflict is often associated with relational breakdown or continued issues, so they will often avoid conflict to keep the relationship. Confrontational people will view the conflict as something that needs to be addressed and may not stop addressing it until the parties have resolved it. In healthy states, confrontational people will often see conflict as a way to preserve a relationship, understanding that the discussion can lead to a strong relationship.
- The goal of Conflict: People who avoid conflict will attempt to do so because conflict is not a winning situation for them. They see it as a bad thing and choose not to engage if at all possible. They will also compromise too quickly to resolve the issue. Confrontational people will often approach the conflict as a competition, sometimes friendly and sometimes not. They will often seek to “win” in the discussion and will not often compromise as easily or willingly.
- Energy: Avoidant people will often have low energy when approaching conflict and they may even end up feeling drained after addressing conflict or attempting to avoid it. Confrontational people will often gain energy as the discussion on conflict continues, which in many cases can come across as aggression if the other people are not confrontational.
When thinking about people and their conflict styles, it is important to understand that not every person will fit nicely into one category, and many people will adapt their style depending on who they are in conflict with. However, to illustrate how confrontation shows up in conflict, simplifying the traits shows a clearer difference.
The Pros and Cons of Confrontation:
As mentioned earlier confrontation does have advantages and disadvantages. While it can be a useful tool in certain situations, it is an easy style to manipulate and use for harm. The line in being confrontational lies in favoring the advantages and avoiding falling into the drawbacks. Some advantages of confrontational conflict include:
- Honesty: For the most part, confrontational conflict encourages honesty because the parties are attempting to have a conversation and resolve the issues. When the parties are seeking to resolve the conflict fully, they will be honest with their needs, thoughts, and feelings because they want to resolve it in the best way possible for themselves.
- Speed: When confrontation is used, it may make the conflict resolve faster. This can be an unfortunate result if one side is not confrontational and they compromise quickly, but if all sides are committed to resolving the conflict but willing to discuss it, it can resolve the conflict instead of pushing it off.
- Longevity: When a dispute is resolved in a confrontational way, the parties are more likely to resolve a dispute fully and less likely to return to the dispute. Confrontation will often push the parties to acknowledge any underlying conflict that is affecting the relationship as well. This means that once the dispute is resolved, it has resolved the full dispute and the parties will be able to move forward without other conflicts popping up.
While there are advantages for the parties using confrontation to resolve a dispute, there are also drawbacks to the style that should be avoided to ensure that all parties are respected and heard. These drawbacks include:
- Overpowering: In many cases, it is easy for a confrontational person to overpower another person, whether it is because of their style or the way they conduct themselves. The confrontational person will likely walk away from a conflict thinking that they have won, but they instead only overpowered the other person.
- Violence: It is easy for confrontational people to become violent or overstep a person’s boundaries in conflict. Because they often approach the issue with a win-at-all-cost mentality, they may become violent to achieve this. This can be particularly dangerous, and it needs to be kept in check.
- Over-commitment: There is a tendency to overcommit to the position that the party is in when they are operating in a confrontational manner. This means that a party may be advocating for a position that they do not want or need because it is the position they chose. This means that they could cause harm to the other party simply because they would not compromise.
- Relational Issues: While confrontation may allow a party to leave a conflict with a sense of winning, that can come at the expense of the relationship. This is a big drawback to the confrontational style and why many people encourage collaboration over confrontation. Many times, the relationship is the most important part, but the goal to win can get in the way of that.
Understanding where the line is not easy, but with some work, a person can use a confrontational style to achieve their goals while still keeping their relationships and goals intact.
Tips for Working with Confrontational People:
While confrontation is not everyone’s preferred style, it can also be helpful to know how to deal with a confrontational person, especially when they are attempting to overpower or ignore collaboration. Some tips for dealing with confrontational people include:
- Depersonalize: When confrontational people are interacting in a harmful way, it can often help the situation to depersonalize. This means separating the situation from an attack on oneself and focusing on the issue at hand. Being proactive about avoiding topics that could turn the attack back on the nonconfrontational person will help keep the focus on the conflict and off the confrontational person from pushing further.
- Boundaries: Each person is entitled to their boundaries and they should be respected. Assert boundaries clearly and articulate when they have been violated. Ensure that any oversteps are met with consequences of some kind to create a culture where the autonomy of each person is respected fully. Demanding re
- Distance: In some situations, it is best to avoid the conflict or the person altogether. Unless something major is at stake, avoiding a confrontation can help ease the situation and avoid unnecessary stress or danger if safety is threatened.
Being confrontational is a trait that can be used for good, but it can quickly shift to harmful if it is not kept in check. It truly is a style of conflict resolution that acknowledges all conflicts present directly and persistently.
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