Interpersonal relationships are a fact of life. We can’t avoid them and we can’t avoid the conflict they cause. However, we can work on how we handle conflict. As Geek Girls we are, more often than not, the minorities within the communities we are a part of. Therefore, it is practically impossible to avoid situations that require confrontation. We need to be able to speak up for ourselves when these situations do arise. Unfortunately, for most of us, confrontation is a scary word we like to avoid. It’s something that is negative and inevitably causes more conflict. This attitude can severely limit our abilities to accomplish great things, both personally and professionally.
Confrontation is difficult, even for people who are good at it. No one wants to look at the face of someone they care for or respect and tell them that something they have done is wrong. No matter how many times I’ve done it, my heart still races every time. A few years ago I was living in Africa while attending the University of Botswana as an exchange student. It was a great experience because I had previously traveled in the country before and so had many friends there. Eventually, there came a point that I had to confront a close friend because she started borrowing money from me and not paying me back. From a purely objective point of view, I could understand why: I was the “rich” American and could afford to overlook a few hundred pula.
The root of the problem was just that viewpoint. In purely financial terms, I was rich compared to most Batswana, but realistically, I was at the same socioeconomic status in America as they were in Botswana. I was an independent undergraduate student dependent on financial aid and so was my friend. I had more money than she did but I also had more obligations (and the bills at home didn’t stop just because I wasn’t there). In this situation I had a choice, overlook the money she owed me or confront her about it.
I chose to do the latter, and it wasn’t a walk in the park. It put a strain on our relationship for some time, but in the end it gave us each a new understanding of the other. America was no longer a land of “milk and honey” to her and I was able to better understand why she had treated the borrowed money so causally. It gave us the confidence to be able to attack other cultural misunderstandings with each other more openly as they came up. If I had not made the decision to talk to her about an uncomfortable subject, I might have become bitter toward her and because of that lost a friendship that has withstood the tests of time and distance.
As we begin this conversation, we first need to define what confrontation is and what it isn’t. Confrontation is when you confront, or bring up an issue, with another party. It is not an argument; it is a conversation with a specific purpose. Confrontation is a healthy way to deal with the problems that arise out of living in a world populated with other people.
Before we are able to become effective at confrontation with others, we must first learn how to be effective at confronting ourselves. This is probably the hardest part of the equation. We must accept the places in our lives where we fail along with those places where we succeed. In order to handle confrontation successfully we must be able to bring ourselves into the conversation as honestly as possible. What I mean by this is that you must be upfront and open about your part in any conflict as well as your feelings about it. In order to be able to bring that honesty into a healthy confrontation you need to have a clear understanding of who you are.
Take time over the next few weeks to take a good look at your life in the context of interpersonal relationships. What do you do well? Where do you stumble? Are you known in your circle for any particular skill such as being a good confidant or a good problem solver? Is there a certain kind of situation you find yourself in that constantly frustrates you? Also, think through some past situations you wish you could have handled better and think about what you would have done in hindsight. How could those situations could have been avoided had you spoken up sooner? I suggest making a few lists. If you journal, try going back through some old entries – they might give you some insight into the questions above.
Speak Up is the category we’ll be using for posts at GGNO that tackle topics that need the voices of Geek Girls involved in the conversation; this series on confrontation is the first to be nestled under it. Over the next few posts in this series, we will focus on what it takes to succeed at confrontation and the different types of situations in which confrontation can be useful, whether at home, in the workplace, at school, or in public. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or if there’s any particular area of confrontation you’d like us to address.
The photo included in this post was taken by the author in Botswana.