The 4 Parts of a Successful Confrontation – How to Resolve Issues Hurting Relationships

Danny Silk

When we hear the word “confrontation,” a lot of us probably think of a scenario involving:

  • High levels of anxiety and tension

  • People communicating aggressively, passively, or passive-aggressively

  • Fight, flight, or freeze behaviors

  • Some kind of battle or power struggle

  • A winner and a loser

In other words, for many of us, “confrontation” equals “conflict,” and conflict (except for those personalities who seem not only to tolerate but even enjoy conflict) is uncomfortable, scary, and even painful. Typically, any “resolution” achieved through conflict-style confrontation is temporary.

When I use the term “confrontation,” however, I have a specific definition in mind. A confrontation is:

  • a respectful conversation between two powerful people . . .

  • that addresses a specific issue that is hurting connection . . .

  • for the purpose of achieving mutual understanding of the issue and building a plan to adjust to behavior to better meet the needs of the relationship . . .

  • which ultimately results in restoring and strengthening the relationship.

Let’s look closer at these 4 things so we can understand what belongs in a successful confrontation.

1. A Respectful Conversation Between Two Powerful People

Let’s be real. When there is an issue to be confronted in a relationship, whether it’s with a spouse, a child, a coworker, or even a leader, there are most likely going to be some painful emotions involved. Classically, people are going to be experiencing some mix of “hurt, scared, angry, and powerless.”

Powerless people allow these painful emotions to drive them toward behavior that exacerbates the issue that is hurting the connection—disrespect, retaliation, isolation, etc. Powerful people, however, have self-control and emotional and relational intelligence. Instead of caving into the instinct to self-protect, they choose to protect the connection by demonstrating emotional honesty and vulnerability.

Every respectful conversation requires two powerful people on either side of the communication exchange. Whoever is speaking must be powerful in showing the other person the truth about how the issue is affecting them. The listener must be powerful in actively seeking to understand what the speaker is showing them. The moment one person tries to overpower the other or disappears, respect has vanished.

2. That Addresses a Specific Issue

A relational issue is usually some kind of behavior or set of behaviors that are creating a painful experience for someone in the relationship. It could be anything from a certain personality or behavior style to something unhealthy and dysfunctional. Quite often (in fact, most of the time), there is no harmful intention on either side, so that’s a helpful assumption for both people to bring to the conversation.

In healthy relationships, confrontation happens quickly following a painful experience, and stays focused on dealing the specific incident or behavior. In unhealthy relationships where issues go un-confronted or unresolved, there is a temptation for the speaker to bring up a whole history of past hurts when a confrontation (usually conflict-style) finally happens, which betrays that there are bigger problems in the relationship.

3. For the Purpose of Understanding, Adjusting, and Meeting Needs

At the most basic level, there are two pieces of information that need to be communicated and understood in a confrontation—the current experience that the problematic behavior is creating in the relationship, and the experience that needs to be created in order to restore safety and connection.

We are champions of the “I message” because it is so brilliant at helping people formulate these pieces of information when they are on the speaking end of a confrontation. Once again, the “I message” is:

I feel ____________________ (emotion)

when ____________________ (behavior) happens.

I need to feel _______________________ (emotion) in this relationship.

Notice that the “I message” requires the speaker to be vulnerable with their emotions, assertive in expressing their needs, and just as importantly, to refrain from telling the other person what they need to do to change! All of these send the message, “I value you and I value this relationship—enough to crack my heart open, let you know what I need, and trust you to care about meeting that need.”

If the other person is doing their job as the listener in this exchange, then they are postured to do two things. First, if they practice reflective listening, they can actually help the speaker clarify the message they’re sending while simultaneously showing that they understand that message. Second, with this understanding, they have the valuable information they need to create a strategy to adjust their behavior and meet the person’s needs.

4. Resulting in a Stronger Relationship

A successful confrontation will restore and strengthen relationship in multiple ways.

Gaining increased understanding of one another helps to lower anxiety and build intimacy.

Discovering one another’s needs and growing in our ability to meet them heals pain, deepens connection and trust, and prevents disconnection in the future.

And experiencing one another make the powerful choice to push past the painful emotions and say, “I choose you, I choose our relationship, and I’m fighting for restoration” is actually an incredible experience of sacrificial love that binds people together.

One of my dreams is to help people become powerful in creating relationships and relational cultures where successful confrontation is the norm! Yes, there are emotional and relational skills involved that we must learn. But they are all the skills we need to grow in being powerful people and building powerful relationships.

It’s not just worth it for us to master successful confrontation—it’s essential!

P.S. Coming soon to Life Academy! Our new eCourse, Successful Confrontation, launches this August!

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  1. Awesome blog today, I so resonate with what you are saying. Do you have advice for what to do if the other person refuses to listen/be powerful in a confrontation? For example a lot of the time when I bring up a hurt in a relationship I’m told to lighten up.

  2. Thank you, Danny! Since I read Culture of Honor I’ve been looking for the nuts ‘n’ bolts for healthy confrontation. I’m half way through KYLO which is helping a lot. But this post is amazingly helpful. Thank you for laying out the difference between conflict and confrontation.

  3. Great article: sometimes one party does not want to respond. A powerful and meek person can still respond in love, speaking the truth in love with great humility and honor to open the other person up. I love the gentleness and honor communicated in this article, and I hope it opens up many to see that they can have the courage and grace to take hold of essential communication in their lives.

  4. Love it! Thank you so much Danny Silk. Keep it coming. The more people hear these words put so plainly, the more they are able to confidently embrace the changes required in and of themselves to better connect with others in meaningful exchanges. 💛

  5. Today, I had to confront a male co-worker who has been borderline harassing me with unwanted attention. We had a mediated conversation where I attempted to use ‘I statements’ and assertively express that his comments and actions have made me feel uncomfortable. This coworker proceeded to get belligerent and hurl various, hurtful insults at me. Our mediator helped shut down his disrespectful talk and I was able to communicate that I still plan to be respectful toward him.

    The meeting ended and when he left the room, I all but broke down crying. It was rough. To choose to speak kindly and assertively without defending your character that someone has just assassinated in order to defend himself.

    So now I am home, trying to recoup–(ie releasing forgiveness, asking Jesus to meet me where the words hurt, and praying that God protects me from any retaliation that this man would seek to have.) But then I stumbled upon this blog and though how fitting! Makes me see how healthy confrontation truly does require two powerful people, choosing to ‘keep their love on’. And where one person resorts to fear-based communication, life truly is found in choosing to not go out of character.

    If Jesus prompts you this weekend, please say a prayer for me about this! Wanting to keep my heart pure without walking in fear when I’m working. Would also like Jesus’ hedge of protection through this all too.

  6. I guess my concern is what do you do when you have confronted the behavior issue that causes you pain in a relationship…what if that behavior is ‘justified’ by the doer just because they want to do it regardless of whether or not it causes ‘you’ pain…it’s like an addict saying that they have no addiction…the addiction is as clear as day to the person without the addiction because they can see how it has destroyed the relationship…

  7. ….what do you do when the ‘sword’ is drawn toward you rather than toward the ‘thing’ that continues to destroy the relationship…what do you do when you refuse to ‘fold’ and move on but you also know you look pretty ridiculous outside of a divine intervention from God

  8. Thank you, Danny for the concise articulation! It gives me a framework to use in searching out just what I am feeling and why so that I can speak clearly and simply. If I don’t have it worked out ahead of time, I go blank in the presence of anxiousness and feeling rushed to find the words. I expect this will take quite a bit of practice to get to where I can think on my feet and Keep my respect/love on. I thank you so much! And I thank those who have posted "stories" of their own. They help too!

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