Confrontation is always a tricky subject. Either people fear it, and don’t confront when necessary, or confront far too aggressively or haven’t developed effective skills for dealing with anger. Confrontation is a difficult word and a difficult subject altogether. Before we go any further, let’s look at a couple of definitions for conflict, forgiveness and confrontation:

Conflict: To come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, in opposition, at variance. To clash. To fight or contend; do battle. Struggle, strife.

Forgiveness: To grant pardon for or remission of an offense, debt, etc. Absolve. To give up all claim on account of, remit an obligation, to grant pardon to a person.

Confront: To face in hostility or defiance. Oppose. To stand or meet face to face to acknowledge contradiction.


From Conflict to Forgiveness:

Conflict is inevitable in every relationship, simply because each of us has individual beliefs, values, ideas, preferences and the freedom of choice. When we ‘clash’ with another person’s perspective, we have conflict. Conflict can arise for any number of reasons, From misunderstanding or abuse, or power or control that one person asserts over another, to differing points of view, or values with an unyielding stance that one’s own opinion is always correct. As this is a loaded and very deep subject, we will not get too heavily in depth on either the subject of conflict or forgiveness, but we will stay on a high level looking at the concepts as an overview, with real practical assignments to help get you started in the right direction to dealing with conflict and forgiveness and effective ways to confront each other when differences arise, or when we have been hurt, or have been angered by the actions of another person.

First of all, conflict often arises when we feel we have been, or have legitimately been ‘hurt’ by another’s words, actions or behavior. Often the first emotion we feel is anger, or blame. Anger is a protector. It protects against hurt. It is a powerful emotion that enhances one’s sense of power when they feel injured by another party. We tend to see things in an all or nothing perspective when angry by seeing the other as the attacker, exploiter, or invader, while we see ourselves as the innocent victim. While this may be true in a small number of cases, (in which both parties will often know only one person is at fault), more often than not, as the saying goes: “It takes two to tango”. Although the level of responsibility for an offense may not always be equal, in most situations, especially close relationships with spouse, family, or friends, some of the responsibility lays with each party involved in the conflict. It is hard to see this when angered. A helpful tool for dealing with anger is to remember this acronym: F-E-E-L.

The next time you feel yourself getting angry or critical, try the following:
F – Focus – on yourself instead of your partner’s offense and remind yourself of what each letter means. Then remember to focus on what you are feeling beneath the anger.
E – Emotion – Determine what the emotions are that you are experiencing beneath the anger, for example, hurt, rejection, fear. This may help dismantle some of your anger.
E – Empathy – Remember to express empathy for the person you are in conflict with. Remember that they are not perfect and neither are you. When you are able to see you are not perfect either, you get of the judge’s bench and can now see your partner/friend, etc. as an equal participant who also hurts and feels. Try to understand where they are coming from, and feel empathy or compassion for them, to remember that you have basic good will toward each other.
L – Leave – If none of the above is working, leave the situation. It is probably best to discuss this with the person prior to an angry outburst as to how you will address conflict when you are angry. A good rule of thumb if you need to leave the situation because you feel you are losing control of your anger is to determine a length of time for a time-out from the confrontation. Ie. 20-30 minutes to cool down, so that you can address the issue when you are not as heated. Make arrangements to check in with each other every 20-30 minutes (or whatever time frame you set) to see if both of you are ready to resume facing the conflict without blowing up at each other.

Now that we have a basic background on conflict, and some healthy anger skills, let’s take a closer look at how to confront well. As we see by the definition of confrontation, it CAN in fact be a real battle or struggle, or fight or contend with another, which often seems to stand in stark opposition with forgiveness.

But let’s look at a couple healthy tools to confront someone while still respecting them.

Here are some things we can do:

1. Speak to others as you would like to be spoken to.

2. Remember to maintain basic goodwill toward the person you are in conflict with. Try to believe they have likely have basic goodwill toward you as well.

3. Attempt to empathize with this person. Try to imagine where they are coming from.

4. Listen carefully to what the other person is saying. Do not interrupt or make assumptions on what they mean. A lot of conflict is due to mis-communication, or misunderstanding of the intent of someone’s words.

5. Make sure you clarify what their intent is by repeating what they said back to them in the form of a question to ensure you properly understand the meaning they are getting at prior to jumping to conclusions. Perhaps you will even need to clarify what your definition vs. their definition of a single word may be. ‘Conflict’ to you may mean hostility, blame and shame, whereas to someone else it may mean sitting down together and carefully discussing differences of opinion while respecting each other’s individual perspectives.

6. Validate what the other person is feeling. They are likely not interested in your feedback, and will continue to escalate in temper if they do not feel heard or understood.

7. When all the wrinkles are sorted out from the first person’s side of the story, reverse roles and start the process over, allowing the other person a chance to have their voice heard. Basically, take turns. Work though one person’s issue first and then the other’s. This will keep things far less confusing and more structured and on track.

8. Love unconditionally. To the best of your human ability, try to respect the differences of opinion other’s have, and keep in mind that you DO care enough about this person or relationship enough to work at it by confronting it in an effort to make life with this person far less miserable, and perhaps even, remarkably better!

9. Do not attempt to confront while you are extremely angry. Sort that out on your own time
and find healthy ways of doing it so you can confront the offender when you have cooled off.

10. And again, take time outs when things get too escalated. Walk it off if need be. make a check in plan with your partner or spouse prior to the actual confrontation as to how you will deal with conflict when it arises. Stick to the plan!

11. And finally: Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. As much as possible, try and resolve it the same day. Wounds fester with more time to milk the wounds and can compound the situation. As far as it depends on you, try to live at peace with everyone. The reality is, some conflicts will not have a happy ending. After all, it does take two to tango. And each person has a right to choose how they will respond to the situation. (side note: there are some major life altering, devastating, catastrophic or abusive situations that will likely take much longer than a single day to work through and heal from relational injuries. These issues will obviously be more complex than a simple argument. You may need to seek professional help for more in depth and long term issues.)

David Ausberger has masterfully written a great book called “Caring enough to Confront” where he discusses alternate caring ways in which to confront well. He terms it “care-fronting” and suggests that “care-fronting unifies concern for relationship with concerns for my goals, your goals, our goals. So one can have something to stand for (goals) as well as someone to stand with (relationship) without sacrificing one for the other or collapsing one into another. This allows each of us to be genuinely loving without giving away one’s power to think, choose and act. In such honesty, one can love powerfully and be powerfully loving… The twin abilities of 1) concern for the other and 2) commitment to one’s freely chosen goals do not need to be sacrificed, compromised or conflicted. They can both be sought in harmony and healthful assertiveness. Care-fronting has a unique view of conflict. It sees conflict as natural, normal, neutral and sometimes even delightful. It recognizes that conflict can turn into painful and disastrous ends, but it doesn’t need to. Conflict of itself is neither good nor bad, right or wrong. Conflict simply is.”

One final piece of food for thought on the subject. Try to not use blaming words like “you always” or “you never”, rather try saying, “I feel” statements, remembering that you are only responsible or able to control your own actions and responses. Fixing blame never fixes the problem. Try not to avoid and hold your values, your partner’s and the relationship in an equal place of high esteem. Try to realize you are not always right, nor do you always need to get your own way. It is easy to point out “the speck in our brother’s eye” while ignoring the “log in our own eye”. Simply put, we tend to esteem ourselves as higher or better or more self righteous than others when we feel we have been wronged. It is rarely the case that only one person should take all the blame for a dispute. Have the courage and humility and willingness to look for your own part in the disagreement and quickly own it and apologize for your part in the problem. A little humility will do us all a world of good!

Have a great weekend!