He’s staring at me, waiting for me to speak. I’m looking at the ground. I know what I want to say, what I should say, but I can’t get it out.
I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. I wish I was smaller. And that he wasn’t so close. I know that as soon as I start to speak, my voice will break. My heart is pounding.
I say nothing.
When you’re in a confrontation with someone, it doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong. What matters is who is more comfortable with conflict.
Imagine two people are facing off. Person A is in the right. Person B is in the wrong. But Person A hates confrontation. And Person B loves it.
Person B will win. Every single time.
I used to be Person A. I wouldn’t speak up because I didn’t like the thought of the inevitable conflict. I’d much rather lose face and avoid confrontation altogether than stand up and say what needs to be said.
But no more.
I still have work to do. But I’m better than I was at dealing with difficult situations and confrontational people.
The first, and perhaps most obvious thing I’ve discovered is that acquaintance overcomes fear. Meaning, the more you experience you have in these situations, the easier they become.
Now, when those charity workers occupy a bottleneck on the high street in to engage you, I don’t avoid them. I walk straight at them and then decline whatever they’re offering.
Now, when I think someone is being rude or disrespectful to me, I’m more likely to tell them.
Now, in my relationships, if I don’t want to do something for whatever reason, I say so. I used to just agree and then try to worm out of it later on.
This is the solution for most people. Deliberate practice of confrontation and awkward situations. That in itself alters the game.
Another simple trick.
When someone stands up for themselves and doesn’t back down, we imagine they are full of self-confidence. The problem you have when you suck at confrontation is the lack of self-confidence..
So, exploit a simple psychological hack to get it. Your mindset follows your behaviour. Pretend to be a confident, assured individual and you actually start to become one.
Next time you’re in a confrontation, make yourself as tall as you can. Pull your shoulders back and lift your chin off your chest. Rather than looking at the ground, look your adversary right in the eye. Or if that’s too uncomfortable, look at the bridge of their nose. They won’t know the difference.
Such a small change has a dramatic impact on the course of the confrontation.
Another thing to think about is risk.
In any given confrontation, what do you really have to lose? The other person can’t hurt you. They can’t do anything to you. They can only hurt your feelings or intimidate you if you let them.
You perceive the risk of a confrontation as high. But the actual risk is minimal. Focus on that and it becomes easier to relax. The pressure goes away.
You have one more option.
Imagine that the other person is invading your personal space, talking over you, getting angry and being disrespectful. There’s no rule or law that says you have to continue talking to them. You can turn and walk away. You can cut them off and say: “I’m happy to discuss this with you, but only when you’re ready to do it like an adult.”
The majority avoid conflict because it’s unfamiliar. Scary. Difficult. And it is.
But there are some who recognise this and decide to use it to their own advantage. In your lifetime, you’re going to cross paths with many, many people who have figured this out and repeatedly act on it.
They know that in a confrontation, right or wrong doesn’t matter because they can intimidate and scare their opponent. They know that they can win if they love conflict more than the other person.
Don’t like conflict but don’t want to be an easy target? Here’s what you need to do:
Deliberately put yourself in awkward situations to practice handling them. Imitate the body language of someone with assurance. Remember how little you have to lose and if you need to, remove yourself from the situation entirely. But only as a last resort.
Because backing down confirms the effectiveness of the other person’s intimidation tactics. It gives them more confidence to do it again in the future, to you or another person.
These people are nothing more than bullies. Bullies fear strength. Show them yours.