How to Confront Someone Peacefully and Productively

Unless you’re a robot, it’s almost a guarantee that at one point another you’ll have to approach someone about something they might’ve done either intentionally or unintentionally. Most people find extreme discomfort in the act of confronting someone in order to absolve an issue and reach a common ground. We do so for numerous reasons, including:

  • We have painful memories of past confrontations gone awry
  • We don’t want to be confronted for fear of being “found out” (that we’re doing something wrong or have disappointed others)
  • It’s difficult to assert ourselves in heavily power-laden or political environments (like many of our workplaces)
  • We find it hard to master our emotions effectively when we’re talking about something challenging or fear-inducing
  • We second-guess, question and doubt ourselves regarding our grounds and motives for confrontation
  • We (again, particularly women) don’t want to be seen as “mean” or challenging
  • We’d rather it just “work out” magically [1]

However, “the most important reason [to confront someone] is the deep psychological one: You matter, your opinion matters, and having a voice is worth a little discomfort for you and those around you.” [2]

Here’s how to do that peacefully and productively:

1. Ask yourself….is this worth bringing up?confront

The absolute first thing you should do is ask yourself if the issue is even worth bringing up to someone. If you’re answering this question while in a state of sadness or anger, then the answer is almost always going to be yes. Give yourself some time to live out the longevity of your initial emotional reaction, and while doing so, make sure that you have all the information and that it’s reliable and truthful. You never want to go into a confrontation with your guns blazing hasty accusations. The person will immediately retreat to a state of defense and you’ll be farther from a common ground than you were before approaching them. If someone did something to you directly, like say something that offended you during a meeting, then you have all the information you need. Simply ask yourself, should I let this go? Or will I feel better if I confront them about it? If the answer to the second question is yes, then you should take the next step.

2. Choose the right setting.

Confronting someone should always be done in private and never in front of people who aren’t involved. Not only is it very distasteful, but it makes other people extremely uncomfortable. Additionally, don’t do it in a place where you are likely to be interrupted. Confronting someone in private allows the attention to be focused on the issue at hand without interruption, embarrassment, or the input of someone who isn’t involved. Depending on the severity of the situation, you can choose to do it via text or email. But bear in mind that tone, meaning, etc. can be easily misconstrued when we don’t have non-verbal ques or instant clarification like we do when confrontation is done in person. Additionally, it can take more time to absolve when you’re constantly typing replies back and forth. For best results, gather the courage to do it in person.

3. Choose the best opener…it’ll set the tone for the conversation.

Think about how you would want someone to confront you. We can assume it isn’t an anger induced rage, right? It’s done in a calm, rational manner that provides a comfortable parallel for information and clarification to be transmitted between two people. Opening that parallel should be done in a well thought out manner. Here are some pointers:

  • Rather than saying something like “I need to talk to you about something” or “can I talk to you?” which instantly gives most people a panicky sensation, say something like “hey, you got a quick minute?” or “hey can I ask you a quick question?” They’re both vague and offer no insight into the nature of the conversation, which will prevent their immediate “guard” to be up.
  • Don’t use a loud, sassy, or accusatory tone. How you say something is just as important as what you say.
  • If you heard about it through a third party, don’t get into specifics about the source. Rather than saying “so and so told me that…” or “I heard from so and so that you…”, say something along the lines of “it’s gotten back to me that…” They may ask specifically who said something, and you are not obligated nor should you tell them who it was. Should they ask, simply say “I just heard it from hear-say.”
  • Leave your opener open-ended so that they have an opportunity to react. Don’t jump right in by saying “I heard you said XYZ about me, and it really made me angry. I can’t believe you’d say that about me!” Instead, give them an opportunity to react to the new information before telling them how it made you feel. In doing so, you’re giving them the opportunity to possibly clarify what was said or done, or immediately take responsibility for it.
  • Use the “sandwich” method. Open with a positive statement, state the issue, end the conversation with a positive statement. [2]confront

4. Wait for their reaction…here’s what they might do:

  • Offer clarification, and then wait for your response.
    • Be prepared for new information that may make you re-consider your position. Enter the situation with an open-heart, a desire to communicate clearly, and a willing to find a resolution, if possible. [3]
    • If they’re clarification makes the situation better, but still worthy of you being reasonably upset, then explain that regardless, it still made you feel XYZ to the point where you felt you had to talk to them about it.
  • Justify their actions
    • If they try and justify what they did or said with an invalid reason, to defend themselves or save face, stick to your guns. This is them not taking responsibility for the fact that what they did or said was hurtful to you. Offer a short summary of how they made you feel.
  • Get irrationally defensive.
    • Usually when someone is feeling “backed into a corner” they’ll get overly defensive and start trying to flip the script. “I only said that because you started going around acting like XYZ”. If they try to flip the script by saying that their action was a retaliation to something you did, ask them why they didn’t just come speak to you directly, and emphasize that you thought they had the kind of relationship where communication was open.
  • Play dumb.
    • It’s obviously a very juvenile tactic to play dumb. In a perfect world, they would just take responsibility for what they said or did. But since they’re choosing to take this route, they’re not going to just magically remember what they did. If they play dumb or deny their actions, simply say something along the lines of “oh thank god, because when I heard/saw that, I was really upset there for a minute. I thought you had actually said that, and I didn’t want to believe it.”
  • Best case scenario (and what most rational adults should strive to do) is put their pride aside and take responsibility for the fact that what they did or said caused a reaction negative enough to create a situation where they needed to be confronted. If they do apologize, you can either forgive them and move on or tell them how it made you feel before forgiving them. Either way, depending on the severity of the situation, you should consider the fact that they 1. Took responsibility for their action 2. Actively rectified it 3. Genuinely hoped for your forgiveness. Life is short, you don’t have to forget, but for your own well-being, it’s best to forgive people in order to move on with your own life.

                          Whatever you do, don’t….

  • Raise your voice. Even if they do, keep a calm and even tone (if even your heart is racing). Yelling is irrational and unnecessary for getting a point across. Pretty soon, they’ll realize they just look ridiculous and like they’re throwing a tantrum.
  • Curse. You’re a professional, remain so even when things escalate.
  • Bring up stuff you’ve already put behind you. If you’ve forgiven them and moved on, keep it in the past. But, always use past patterns to make future decisions.
  • Feel like you have to keep going. Sometimes, people resort to irrational and erratic behavior, especially in tense situations. If it gets out of hand and you’re not getting anywhere with that person, simply say “well, I thought this would be easy and you’d just take responsibility for your poor decision, but I guess not so, see you later.” Use that as an indicator that this person is difficult, proud, and childish. Limit contact with them in the future, you don’t need their negativity.
  • Forget how much you’re worth.

confront5. Now, take a minute to decompress in solitude and think about what happened. Regardless of the outcome, move on. Take comfort in the fact that you’re thankful to be someone who’s successful and likable. You did your part by approaching them peacefully, and simply bringing it up, you’ve forced them to reflect on their actions. You did everything right, let them live with their poor actions now…not you.


[1] Coprino, Kathy. “5 Critical Steps to Fearless Confrontation.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

[2] Howes, Ryan. “How to Confront.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 27 June 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

[3] Raeeka. “4 Simple Tips for Confronting Someone Who Hurt You.” Tiny Buddha. Tiny Buddha, LLC., 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Image Retrieval (In Order)

  • Confrontation Word Cloud, Business Concept. Digital image. 123RF, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
  • A tense moment between two women on a sofa. Digital image. com. Demand Media, 3 July 2015. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
  • Two women speaking to each other. Digital image. Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 27 June 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
  • Marina Pissarova. Woman doing yoga meditation in white costume on the beach in Goa, India. Digital image. com. 123RF, n.d. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.