Recently, I was on a plane when a person behind me put his bare foot on my armrest. My heart started to pound. I knew I had to say something. Before I could, the man next to me lightly poked his foot with the pen and he slipped.
For some of us, the idea of confrontation triggers a stress response, says Karen Osilla, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. This causes people to avoid it, she says, “because we associate it with danger.”
But disagreements are not only inevitable, they can also bring benefits, says Bo Seo, author of “Good Arguments: How Debate Teaches Us to Listen and Be Heard.” Portuguese). Studies suggest that resolving conflicts in a healthy way increases your well-being, reduces stress and improves self-esteem.
So how should conflict-averse people handle tense situations? Experts gave some tips.
START WITH PEOPLE YOU TRUST
If confrontation makes you nervous, try disagreeing with people you trust, suggests Seo, “because open-minded, frank disagreement requires psychological safety.” Try to get comfortable saying, “Actually, I disagree with that,” she recommends. Think of healthy dissent as a muscle you can strengthen over time.
First, take a deep breath, which reduces anxiety and helps you stay calm. Then, politely, admit that you don’t know the other person’s intentions, says Sheila Heen, co-author of “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.”
People often waste time imagining the other person’s motivations, but it’s impossible to know for sure, he says. “Either way, the impact of her action is the problem you want to solve.” Then share your concern, focusing on how the situation affected you.
DESCRIBE YOUR EMOTIONS
After expressing the effects of the other person’s actions or words, communicate your emotions, suggests Heen, and invite them to share their feelings, too. An example would be “I’m frustrated” or “That comment you made hurt.” Don’t hold back.
SWITCH TO A “LEARNING CONVERSATION”
After sharing your feelings, have a “learning conversation” to exchange perspectives and solve the problem together. Heen recommends asking, “What concerns you most about this?” and “What do you think I’m not understanding?” Listen, ask related questions, and suggest possible solutions.
REMEMBER YOU CAN ONLY CONTROL YOUR ACTIONS
Even if we say everything right, we have no control over how the other person will react. “In these moments, be compassionate with yourself,” suggests Osilla. “Tell yourself, ‘I did what I could.'”
Translation Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves