The word "confrontation," makes some of us very uncomfortable. When we contemplate talking to a friend about something they did that upset us, we can be filled with dread.
Some of us believe that confrontation is a recipe for disaster but really, the opposite is true. Sharing our concerns with our friends can actually improve our relationships, while holding back our feelings usually leads to greater problems.
Many of us don't have a positive model of interpersonal confrontation. We grew up watching unproductive arguments between family members and in the media. We observed pointless nagging or explosions of tears; petulant tantrums or vicious contempt. We saw few problems being resolved and much pain being generated. No wonder we're afraid of talking to our friends about how we feel.
Still, it doesn't help to avoid dealing with the things that bother us in our relationships. When we hold back our feelings they accumulate internally, transforming into resentment and then into anger.
Eventually, held-in anger can leak out as nasty remarks or passive-aggressive behaviours. Sometimes, it even explodes outward in a tirade against the friend. Our intention was to prevent conflict, but suppressing our needs and feelings tends to backfire on us.
Another result of avoiding confrontation is that we become emotionally disconnected from our friends. When we aren't honest with them about what's bothering us, they don't get to know who we really are.
Not sharing our true feelings causes our relationships to stagnate or to break apart. Again, not the outcome we were hoping for when we chose to keep things to ourselves.
Obviously, the ideal is to learn how to communicate effectively, but this is not always easy: It's one thing to tell our friends how much we care and how happy we are in the relationship; it's another to express dissatisfaction or worse yet, anger.
We fear rejection, believing that if we're not "nice" or "pleasing," our friend will abandon us. We forget that a real friend won't disappear at the first sign of difficulty, especially if we express ourselves in a reasonable and loving way.
Children who were frustrated in their attempts to express their needs or feelings to the grown-ups in their lives will grow to expect this in their adult relationships.
If the people we grew up with were hostile, defensive or unreasonable when we tried to tell them that something was wrong, we become convinced as adults that our friends will behave similarly. Of course, this isn't the case.
In fact, talking to our friends about the things they've done to upset us is one of the best ways for us to discover who they really are. If our friends are compassionate and responsive to what we tell them and are willing to change the problematic behaviours, it's proof that they truly care about us.
If, on the other hand they deny what they've done, get angry at us for bringing it up, or tell us that we're over-reacting, this demonstrates that they aren't willing to negotiate the relationship in good faith.
Confrontation, for this reason, is an ideal way of distinguishing between our real and false friends. The only relationships at risk from confrontation are the ones not worth maintaining.
So, a few pointers on how to go about the scary business of confrontation: Most importantly, start by being affirming. Let your friend know how much you value the relationship, and that this is why you're sharing your concerns.
Rather than being accusatory, simply tell them how their behaviour made you feel. Make statements like, "When you were texting while I was trying to talk to you, it hurt me. It felt like you weren't interested in what I was saying."
Avoid saying things like, "You always..." or "You never..." Likewise, it's not a good idea to engage in name-calling. Remember, confrontation is supposed to resolve a problem; not to create another one.
Choose an appropriate time and place where you can have a meaningful conversation without any distractions, and where your friend isn't likely to get embarrassed or become defensive; that is, not in front of other people.
Then, be quiet and pay attention to your friend's reaction. How they respond will provide you with invaluable information. If you've approached them in a kind, respectful way, a good friend should respond similarly. Any other type of response will show you that it's unlikely you'll be able to resolve your issues with this person.
Confrontation is initially a daunting proposition but like anything else, the more often you try it, the easier it will be and the better you'll get at it. After a few successful attempts at talking to your friends about your needs and feelings, it'll become second nature. Your friends will know where you stand, and you'll be in the privileged position of knowing who your true friends really are.
Follow Marcia Sirota on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marciasirota