Confrontations vs Conflicts: The Difference Matters!

Conflict resolution gets a lot easier if you know the difference between conflict and confrontation.

In this video, we explore that simple difference and why recognizing it will be a game changer in your ability to argue, negotiate, and find common ground.



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Full transcript

The following clip that you’re about to watch is an excerpt from my upcoming course: Healthy boundaries in friendships, dating, and relationships. If you enjoy that clip, have a look in the description for information on how to find the rest of the course.

In this video, we’re going to talk about the difference between confrontation and conflict, there’s a difference that matters.

So boundaries are set using what we’ll call confrontations. So confrontations are just bold, honest conversations, even if they’re just one way, and they’re about your opinions, your feelings and your preferences.

Confrontations can but don’t always trigger off conflicts. Now, confrontation is merely stating an uncomfortable truth. In fact, you might be the only one who’s uncomfortable with it. It’s about how you feel about certain behaviors. It’s about strong opinions. It’s your preference for how people should behave or shouldn’t behave. And it could easily be accepted without any conflict. The person could be totally on board with what you’re saying. A confrontation can occur without a conflict, especially if you’re confronting a person who really loves you, or a person who’s really healthy and confident psychologically.

Conflict is when one or more people in the confrontation lose control of their emotional state and become irrational, where they become so heightened emotionally that they lose track of things like logic and reason and fairness and even compassion for the other person.

Now, this isn’t a clear black and white situation, it’s like a spectrum. I mean, we all feel a bit heightened during a confrontation. But there’s a certain kind of line that we cross where we’re no longer being fair and reasonable and rational. And when somebody – it only takes one person crosses that line – we will now say that we’re in a conflict, or at least they are.

So a person can have a conflict all on their own, or people can have conflict with each other, which really means both people are in conflict and it’s kind of bouncing off each other. You can be in conflict when you deliver a confrontation. If you’re really anxious, or you’re really angry, you’re really desperate for a result, that means you’re already in conflict. And if you can’t manage this, then you’re not really confronting somebody, you’re conflicting with them.

One way to think of conflict is a threat response, fight, flight or freeze, which you’ve probably heard of before. So this is where somebody perceives a confrontation whether they’re giving or receiving it as some form of aggression, an attempt to dominate by force the other person, a risk of harm, or risk of injury. So when somebody does the fight, flight or freeze response, it means that they perceive what is just words coming out of someone’s mouth is so much more, it’s potential harm.

Maybe it’s the harm of their reputation in the future and all the various damage that could do, or imminent in the moment, like threat of violence, that they think they’re going to be literally harmed right now. But a confrontation done right is never a threat of harm, it is never a threat of violence, or a risk of damage to the other person.

So confrontation is about respect. I’m not saying I’m going to change you or harm you. I’m saying I’m not going to let you change or harm me. So as long as you’re respectful, nothing bad happens to you. So confrontation is not a threat, it’s not aggression, or it shouldn’t be at least, and yet some people will respond to confrontation as if they’re being threatened.

So it’s just important as we go into this course for you to know the difference between confrontation and conflict, that they are not the same thing. That confrontation does not always cause conflict. That if two healthy, confident people are having a confrontation, there will not be conflict, they will manage their emotions, and they will not try to harm each other. And you may have been raised to believe that your being confrontational is objectively harmful to other people. But the simple fact is you can only be harmed if you get into a conflict, that you can do all on your own.

One way to look at a confrontation is it’s like flicking a lit match at somebody. Now if that person is a block of ice, there will be no harm done whatsoever. But if that person is a box of fireworks, they’ll explode. So it depends on who they are before the confrontation begins. So if you find that people react really badly to you just being honestly and respectively assertive, then they’re the ones who already had insecurity and trauma and issues and triggers before you even opened your mouth. You can’t take responsibility for that.

So one way to look at boundary setting is the ability to confront without giving into the temptation of conflict, the temptation of getting angry and abusive and unreasonable and illogical. If you can resist that temptation, if you can manage your emotions even if the other person can’t, then you stay in boundary setting and confrontation, and you don’t fall into conflict.

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