Does confrontation get a bad rap? (Part 1)
I started thinking about this several months ago when my wife had to deal with an uncomfortable situation with someone. I gave her some advice and told her she shouldn’t be stressed about it. She responded, “it’s easy for you, you like confrontation.” I thought about her comment for a couple of days and concluded that I don’t like or dislike confrontation; it’s simply a tool that I’ve gotten good at using. The problem is that as a society we have mistakenly accepted an incorrect definition of “confrontation.” Merriam-Webster defines “confrontation” as: the act of confronting: the state of being confronted: such as (a) a face-to-face meeting, e.g. a confrontation between the suspect and the victim, or (b) the clashing of forces or ideas. It then defines “conflict” as a violent confrontation. Too often we incorrectly treat the terms confrontation and conflict as interchangeable, and conclude that they are both “bad.” In the workplace, the inability to distinguish between the two words often leads to claims of hostility, bullying, threats, etc. (conflict terms) when oftentimes the underlying behavior is simply a “confrontation” regarding the clashing of ideas (e.g. performance feedback; constructive criticism). We complain about millennials and their inability to take any sort of negative feedback. If I’m right, it might be because we have taught them since childhood that confrontation is conflict. We’ve shielded them from negative feedback from teachers; we’ve encouraged them to go to a teacher or adult to solve any and all problems (avoid confrontation); we give trophies to losing teams, etc. As a result, the negative consequences of a confrontation (a poor performance review) are treated the same way as the negative consequences of conflict, specifically, the recipient is a victim. Confrontation, defined and handled correctly, is neither good nor bad, and understanding the difference between confrontation and conflict is the best way to keep one from turning into the other.