Coping Skills

The Art of Confrontation

The Art of Confrontation: A Step By Step Guide for Expats

by Kayleigh Roberts and Christine Harris

When we see an accident, there’s a natural inclination to gape and point fingers, overreact, or avoid the mess altogether. Be it vehicular, argumentative, or puppy related, accidents are inevitable, and we each have different, but usually somewhat consistent ways of responding to them.

Eventually, it’s easier to do something than to avoid doing something. You can walk around for only so long before the bridge simply must have a fix. You can put it off for a seemingly endless time, but in the end it’s getting you nowhere until you fix it.

Our reactive behaviour in relationship conflict is equally important. We need to mutually understand and accept what is going on so we can start to heal and work together. This can be difficult for expats who may not be fully acquainted with the customs and perhaps even the language of their new neighbours. There are a few things to keep in mind to help smooth over potential conflict.

Firstly, try to be honest and realistic- promising or ‘expecting the world’ will leave everyone disappointed. Shoot for a doable solution that can be practiced and built upon, rather than completed overnight.

Ask Yourself - What’s going on? How are you feeling about it?

Consider Not Knowing - Regardless of what you think, feel or believe about someone, there is no way of knowing what they are experiencing, how they are feeling, or what is going on from their perspective. There is plenty of room for miscommunication when you are experiencing a new culture or environment.

Focus - What objectively happened from your perspective? Focus on yourself, your reactions, and your feelings. Consider that the other person may feel exactly the same as you feel.

Questioning - Strengthen your convictions by exploring every possible opposition or differing perspective. Are there religious, cultural, or political differences at the heart of the conflict, or perhaps a language barrier?

Question your feelings - Question any fear you may have of confrontation. From where are they rooted? Is this fear a coping mechanism?

Agree to Disagree - Give yourself and others the permission to “be yourself.” Respect independent thought and choice. You can explore the perspective of others without losing yourself.

Be Proactive - Focus on ways everyone can make things better and work together.

Keep Attention on Me.

Focus on I Statements - “I feel…  sad and disrespected when you ignore me.”

Avoid Blame Statements like “You did… avoid me” or “You didn’t…  text me back.”  

We statements are good for proposing resolutions. “We can check in with ourselves, each other, and how we feel more to improve our communication.”

Be Realistic- Differentiate intentions from realistic expectations. Acknowledge that what you want or need may not be the other person’s responsibility or within their abilities and vice versa. It’s important to accept ourselves and each other for who we are before making judgements, demands, or resolutions.

We can genuinely want to do something without it being realistic. It’s important to be realistic, honest, and not overextend ourselves.

Remember - Confrontation can reveal to others what gets you more comfortable, secure, encouraged, engaged, attentive, inspired, or motivated.

Channel Courage - It’s easy to become complacent in a small pond. We have the power to swim the channel and sail the world. But, we can’t go that far if we shut ourselves off from it, we must still brave the seas, and embrace differences.

Make Time to Meet - Set aside a bracketed time that works for everyone. Consider age, abilities, and each other’s schedules (with respect to work and religious customs, for instance). Most importantly, make sure this time is dedicated completely to discussion of what happened and how everyone feels they can best confront what’s going on and resolve the issue.

Comfortable Environment - Try to find a safe, calming place where everyone feels welcome. It’s important to find a neutral place, not one party’s personal space. Try to seek a balance so no one feels as if their boundaries or territory are threatened, out of place, or imposing on someone’s space.

Trusted Mediators - Allow everyone to have space to speak, listen, and be heard. Having a non-biased mediator can be immensely helpful, like a therapist, counselllor, coach, or a trusted spiritual or religious guide. Mutual friends usually feel uncomfortable and should not be in the middle of an argument. Despite the best intentions, it is difficult to remain fair, neutral, or feel relaxed as a mediator friend. It’s easy to perceive biases that are not there or take input personally when friends are involved. Having a non-biased professional who is outside of the situation can help insure everyone is and feels heard and propose paths to a mutually beneficial solution.

Avoid involving unnecessary people or non-mutual friends at all costs. We want to create an open discussion, not a show, pity party, argument, or debate. This is no place for uninvolved siblings, co-workers, friends, family, or strangers. It’s a special space and time set aside for resolutions.

If there is a natural power imbalance, such as with a child and parent or worker and boss, it is important to consider and discuss if possible. A parent can ask their child where they would prefer to have a discussion and lend suggestions. A boss should consider the employee’s privacy and comfort before suggesting a few options and asking if they have suggestions and where they prefer. Asking if someone wants the door open or closed is important. Some people need privacy to open up. Others feel trapped if shut up in a strange or new place.


Discuss communication methods if it will not be in person. How do you both communicate best together? This is not a question on how you want to communicate or what is convenient to you or the other person. It’s about clear communication where both parties understand what the other is trying to express. We express so much through our bodies, mannerisms, eyes, voice, tone, and posture that can often be lost via text. It’s equally important not to read into signs that aren’t there. Both can be tricky for text message conversations.


Build Your Strength - Experiment with the following fill in the blank sentences.

I wanted to talk to you because _________________ and I am hoping we can ________________________. -

I feel ___________.

When people ______________, I feel _______________, and at times respond by ____________________

I felt ___________________ when you _____________________, and I reacted by ____________________________.

I (do / do not) think / feel my reaction was ( appropriate / considerate / kind / loving / reasonable / fair ) I would prefer to react by ________________________________.

Do you feel that your reaction was (appropriate/considerate/kind/loving/reasonable/fair)? How would you prefer to react in ___________ situations?

Can we work on __________________ by __________________________________?

I will try to ______________________ and communicate more clearly with you when I begin to feel _____________________.

What do you think would be a good way for us to resolve this?

How can we hold each other accountable?

How do you feel?