As people, we have a “fight or flight” instinct that determines whether or not we’ll speak up, or if we’ll avoid confrontation in a situation of conflict. From my experience, I’ve learned that you can’t be afraid to speak up. When you allow yourself to get all of your thoughts and feelings out in the open, you give yourself the opportunity to have an organic conversation. This can open new doors in your relationships, as well as grow the potential for a deeper understanding between yourself and others.
What are you afraid of? Why do you feel this way?
I decided to write about this, not only to help others who are in the same boat as me, but also as a learning experience for myself to set aside intentional time to dig deep and unpack my own fears. I’ve found that the best place to start is by being brutally honest with yourself. Instead of dwelling on how wrong the other person is, or focusing on all of their personality flaws, take a deeper look at yourself. Ask yourself, “What are you afraid of? Why do you feel this way? What significant event happened in your life to make you have this type of response? How are you going to overcome this?” Every thought and feeling that comes out of these questions, big or small, are all valid.
In answering these questions for myself, I have realized (or really admitted to myself) that I want to be liked by everyone. I want to be the perfect daughter, friend, co-worker, and girlfriend. I want to live in a “fairytale world” where everyone is happy. I can’t say that there is no such thing as a happy ending, but I will say, happiness is all about your perspective.
Where It Stems From
In this thing called life, we will inevitably encounter all kinds of ups and downs. We have to experience the bad to really appreciate the good. For me personally, my tendencies to avoid confrontation began from watching my parents and how they interacted with each other. They are divorced now, but I have very few memories of them being happy together and not fighting. I had always told myself, “When I grow up and get married, we are never going to fight!” With that declaration in mind, I had made it a point to always keep the peace in any interaction I found myself in.
I then became the “peacemaker” of the family. Any time there was family drama, I took it upon myself to talk to the people and ask them to forgive each other, and more or less “keep the peace.” Over the years, I found myself in so many difficult situations, assuming the responsibility to fix everyone’s problems and make sure everyone around me was happy. Over time, this just put an incredible amount of unnecessary weight on my shoulders. Coupled with all my bottled-up unwanted emotions as well, it left me in a place of feeling trapped in my own cage.
How do I overcome this fear of upsetting people? I think for me, this is so deeply rooted that I first have to acknowledge that I matter—my feelings matter. This is my life. I am the main character in my own story and not just a secondary character in everyone else’s. When I disagree with someone, I need to know that it doesn’t have to end up in a screaming match and a hatred between us forever. We can politely state our opposing opinions and work it out together from there. And sometimes it is okay to agree to disagree.
How It Bleeds Into Work
If you work the typical 8 hours per day/40 hours per week (or similar), then you are most likely spending more of your time with work colleagues than at home. Having a fear of confrontation not only affects your personal life, but will really affect your work life as well. Below are a couple examples of how my fear of confrontation has affected my work life and how I overcame it.
You are the only person that knows exactly how much effort you are putting into your work.
Asking For a Raise
I always thought that if you worked hard enough, your boss would notice and decide to give you a raise because they felt you deserved it. Although this isn’t entirely false, I realized the manager’s job isn’t to watch you and see all the good (or bad) things you do—they have a lot of work to do as well! Sometimes they may not know if you’ve been doing exceptionally well, mediocre, or falling behind until they there’s a reason to pay more attention or ask someone else how you are doing. You are the only person that knows exactly how much effort you are putting into your work. If you get to a point where you feel you need a raise or you are deserving of it, then you need to pull together a list of reasons why you are deserving and schedule a meeting with your direct-report and/or manager to discuss how you feel.
This doesn’t mean you will automatically get a raise right then and there, but you are getting the ball rolling and expressing your feelings on the matter so they can soak it in and either agree with you, or give you feedback on things to work on to be closer to getting a raise. This is a more efficient route to getting where you want to be, rather than spinning your wheels and hoping someone notices, and then finally deciding to do something about it.
Giving Feedback as Project Manager
Being a project manager, and also one of the youngest people on the team, it can be difficult to provide feedback to others and not worry about them thinking, “Who are you to tell me what’s wrong with my work? I’ve been here longer and know more than you.” I tip-toe around giving them feedback on things that I feel may be missing the mark on what the client is asking for. Most of us have had at least one bad experience with a manager on a power trip, and I never want to be perceived in that light when I have to tell my co-worker and friends that I found issues or errors that need to be fixed.
I’ve had to intentionally put myself in the mindset that I was put in this position for a reason and if they didn’t think I was capable of doing this job, I wouldn’t be here. It’s my responsibility that the client receives exactly what they are wanting and if I need to guide the direction a bit, then it’s my job to do so. Granted, there are ways and best practices to go about this! I learned it’s best to talk with each person and ask their preference on how they like to receive feedback. I also check in sometimes to get a gut-check on how they think I’m doing and if there’s anything they’d like to see me change to help me grow.
What I've Learned and Why It's Important
Holding in your emotions in an effort to keep the peace will only result in hurting yourself and does nothing to work towards a happy/honest relationship. It keeps the other person from getting to know your vulnerable side. It’s so freeing to be able to speak your mind without any guards up, and trust that the other person will still be there when you’re finished–to work with you in reaching an understanding together. I think once you establish trust (in all regards), you are then able to be vulnerable and easily confront any inner turmoil or differing opinions.
…being intentional about confronting conflicts will really improve your future and well-being.
Your mental health is important! Bottling up your emotions will make you feel like you are going crazy. This can lead to anxiety, depression, ulcers, gray hair, taking years off your life… you name it. Paying attention to this and being intentional about confronting conflicts will really improve your future and well-being.
Writing about this topic and setting aside time to actually dive into this and really think about it has helped me to pay more attention to how I interact with people and how I approach confrontation. I’ve come a long way within this past year on my journey of personal growth. If this topic really spoke to you and you’d like to talk further in a safe space, I’d love to connect over coffee or tea!