The vast majority of people I meet are averse to confrontation. They fear an argument. They avoid it with all of their willpower.

People often look at arguments and confrontations as a BAD thing. If people are arguing, something is wrong.

And for good reason – who wants to spend their day locked in heated debate with someone? It’s not exactly a pleasant way to live.

But if we don’t have any confrontation, any stress, any adversity in our lives, how can we tackle problems with people as they arise? How can we develop the tools we need to deal with adversity?

Eventually someone is going to annoy you, piss you off, hurt your feelings, or worse. How will you react to those people? How will you handle these situations with family, friends, and work?

If someone at work is annoying you, do you brush it under the rug? Suppress your feelings and ignore it?

Or if someone attacks your ideas, do you get defensive? Do you resist the feedback and justify your previous behaviors?

For the vast majority of us, instead of dealing with the problems objectively, we become entangled in emotion and attack the other person.

In our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers it’s important to be able to work through  these opposing ideas without getting wrapped up in our emotions.

It’s important to be able to fight for what you believe in. To call people out when they have offended you. To be able to take constructive criticism without becoming defensive. To be able to stand your own and handle confrontation from either direction.

If you crumble in the face of confrontation, you probably won’t get very far in life. It’s an important skill to cultivate.

If you get defensive every time someone disagrees with you, you will be a very difficult team member to work with.

If you become a pushover who avoids confrontation, team members will step all over you.

If you’re the asshole who jumps down people’s throats without being sensitive to their needs, you will be equally frustrating to deal with.

Controlled confrontation is the art of knowing how to handle difficult conversations without allowing your emotions to get the best of you. To be able to withstand an argument and hug it out at the end.

It’s also the ability to know when to pause in an argument and save it for another time where you can work through it together in a controlled environment.

I believe that this practice works best when done at a specific time and place, rather than reflexively or reactively in the movement of the day. Confrontation works best when it is scheduled and boundaries are put in place in advance.

We minimize reactive arguments because people know that they have a time and place to have a discussion like this at a later time. We stop things from getting out of control by creating boundaries in advance.

We create a window and space to air out our problems in a controlled manner. To give people a platform to air their frustrations.

Confrontation is a good thing if we do it at a specific time and place and set boundaries in advance. Set rules of engagement so people don’t feel personally attacked or violated.


WARNING: You will need to make hard decisions – some things are beyond agreement – sometimes there’s an end to the fighting. You have to know when to throw in the towel because two people are never going to see something the same way and we don’t want to try and force them to. This is where boundaries come into play. In those moments, difficult decisions must be made. Relationships get severed. People get fired. Sh*t happens. This is a part of the process.

I like to look at it like boxing or MMA. These sports are great because they say “Go in the ring and kick the living shit out of each other BUT here are some basic rules you need to follow so you don’t kill each other.” Someone might end up with a bloody eye or a concussion, but in the end you duked it out in a controlled way 😂

Having said that, I do believe that we should encourage more confrontation in the office. Encourage people to call each other out. Encourage a culture of mutual respect where people help each other put their ideas through the ringer and back.

Controlled confrontation helps to cultivate the ability to deal with stressful situations. It teaches you how to voice yourself when you have a problem. It teaches you how to face your fears and fight for what you believe in.

Fight for your ideas. Express why you disagree with something. Fight for what you believe in. Help others do the same. Embrace controlled confrontation 🙂

Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “Controlled Confrontation – The art of handling difficult conversations

  1. “You have to know when to throw in the towel because two people are never going to see something the same way and we don’t want to try and force them to. ” – SO SO SO TRUE!!!

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