Consequences of Avoiding Confrontation
I am a people pleaser. Running from confrontation has been standard behavior almost my entire life. It started as a defense mechanism in childhood to cope with confrontation that occurred in my home. If voices started to raise, I would try and defuse the situation, and if I couldn't defuse it with my words, I would simply go to my room and hide. My hope was the confrontation would go away on its own. Feelings and emotions were not usually spoken about in my home growing up. This created an atmosphere that felt unsafe to freely express your emotional needs. They were expressed when someone reached a boiling point and started yelling. I subconsciously learned that confrontation always led to an explosion of emotions. This was overwhelming, and I learned to avoid all discussions where I knew there would be confrontation.
As I grew up and started making friends, I would be labeled the quiet one, or the sweet one. "You're just so kind" people would say. Inside, however, I was not letting myself express my true feelings, wants and desires, especially if they conflicted with someone else's. I didn't even think I had the right to do so. Luckily, I had enough focus and guidance from my parents to avoid "going along with the crowd" on major decisions like early sexual activity, drug use, and criminal activity (for the most part 🙂). Anything else was fair game.
Just recently I was eating dinner with my future father-in-law and he wanted me to try his favorite new dip. Jalapeño ranch dressing. I smiled and said I would. However, I'm a label reader. I read the label and saw a couple of the first ingredients, soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup. These are two ingredients I try and avoid like a wet dog sitting on furniture. After sampling a bit of the dip, my soon to be father-in-law wanted to know what I thought. I of course, said it was good. From then on, he said it's Amber's favorite dressing/dip. Now I know this is just a small example of how avoiding a conflicting conversation leads to dishonesty and miscommunication. Later on that week, I pulled the Band-Aid off quickly and told him I do not prefer his dip, which was a harder conversation to have than it would have been, had I told the truth in the first place.
The above scenario can happen on a much grander scale in our personal and business lives. Not expressing your emotions and needs openly and honestly in a relationship can lead to resentment, anger, passive aggressive behavior and eventually termination of that relationship.
In our professional lives, I've seen business owners not hold staff to a standard of behavior that is company policy, to only have other employees feel like there is a double standard at play. The manager or owner just wanted to avoid confronting the staff member, but now they have a major morale issue as well as a possible legal entanglement. If you don't hold one employee to a standard set by the company, you then can no longer hold the other employees to that standard. What if that standard is showing up late to your shift? Now that spreads throughout your company. So you've gone against your own company policy (which is a form of dishonesty) and you've lost the respect of your staff.
During my business consulting days, I've seen customers ask for ridiculous services that are not included in the original agreement. The owner, wanting to avoid confrontation, does not inform the customer that there will be an upcharge associated to the new services. They end up doing the requested service for free to please the customer. Then the owner, over time, ends up losing money on the account, month after month, simply because they do not want to express their needs and wants. As you can guess, in this situation, the business owner will be out of business rather quickly. During this time the business owner has built up resentment towards his customer, and the customer has no idea. When the they finally get the courage, if ever, to explain to the customer that they can no longer provide the services for free, there usually ends up being a massive confrontation. Had the business owner presented the fact that any added-on services would require an upcharge, there would have been a pause of reflection, but ether the customer would have declined adding more services, accepted the add on price, or simply gone with another vendor. All these outcomes are much better than delaying the truth telling (which is that business owners don't work for free) and making the situation ten time worse. It becomes worse because now you have a customer that has taken away your profitability for a period and then when you finally get the courage to stand your ground and tell the truth, the customer will feel confused, a little embarrassed, and on the defensive. Especially if you waited until your breaking point and approached them with emotion in your voice.
It is always best to be honest up front, and express your needs, wants and desires at the beginning. It will always get worse if you delay. Dishonesty, no matter how well intentioned, usually leads to future dishonesty and confrontation.
When it comes to my personal behavior, I usually end up expressing myself passive aggressively if I haven't taken the responsibility to express myself clearly when the time warrants. What usually happens, is I become a jerk and the person receiving this behavior wonders why I'm being so rude. It's because I have avoided having a responsible conversation for so long, that resentment and frustration has built up. Instead of taking ownership of my behavior, I start taking it out on the person who was willing to express their needs and wants. I was the one who failed to communicate fully and honestly back. In my subconscious, I feel the person deserves to be treated badly because they have taken advantage of me for so long. The reality is that I was the one who failed to step up and communicate my needs and boundaries. I not only failed to communicate those needs and boundaries, but I failed to hold the other person accountable if they crossed them.
I see this all the time when it comes to parenting. Please note that I do not have any children, but I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the raising of my nieces and nephews for almost 6 years of their lives. During this time, I saw their mother struggle expressing her needs, desires and boundaries with her children. What ended up happening was the kids would start to ignore her "rules" because she never held anyone accountable. They saw their mother as a liar. For example, she would say, "there is no eating in the living room". Then she would walk into the living room with a child eating, and not say a word. So the children soon learned that what mom says is not truth, and does not need to be adhered to. Does this mean the children are bad? Absolutely not. But it does mean that as parents, or parental figures, we need to hold our ground. Have the tough conversations with our kids and hold them to the family standard. Avoiding confrontation with her children led to frustration on both sides. My sister would get so frustrated that the kids would not do the smallest things that she would ask, she would soon burst out in anger with a raised voice. They would be confused as to why mom was so angry towards them. After all, she never had a problem with this behavior before. This leads to mistrust between parent and child. Hurt feelings and strained relationships. Worst of all, a parent could start to resent their own children.
My challenge to myself and you is to express your needs, desires, wants and boundaries at the beginning of any potential confrontation. It may be awkward at first, but each honest conversation will train you for the next, and soon you will be a pro at communication. You will also avoid many arguments and frustration in your personal and professional lives. Hers's to a future of honest healing confrontational conversations.