’d have done it sooner, had I known how good it would feel. But the truth is I was scared. Confronting anyone face-to-face is daunting — especially when that someone sleeps just metres below your own bed.
But there comes a time when enough 3am dubstep is enough, and it turns out that time for me coincided with a convenient state-imposed six-person rule. “I didn’t want to have to do this…” I told my neighbours on their doorstep the morning after illegal lockdown rave number three, regurgitating the lines I’d rehearsed with my housemates. The looks on their faces told me my message had got through. If it happened again, I would be calling the police.
Stories of snitching on neighbours have been common this year, but my personal victory felt like a landmark moment for a different reason. Past encounters with neighbours have always taken place via polite letters or Post-it notes on lampposts (another story) and I’ve always been the first to avoid social conflict with friends, even if it’s often meant paying a larger slice of the bill.
The inspiration behind my newfound confidence? A stream of new self-help books championing the (not-so-subtle) art of confrontation. It seems there’s a thriving market for books that teach you how to say it straight: titles that have landed on my desk in recent months include Please Yourself, The Power of Not Caring and James Williams’s to-the-point Assertiveness Training.
No wonder: the pandemic forced many of us to confront the uncomfortable head-on. Will your flatmate be moving her boyfriend in for lockdown — and will he contribute to the heating bill? Is your Hinge date keen enough to commit to bubbling or is he actually just after an illegal snog?
Whatever your dilemma, there was no time to waste. And so I took a leaf out of their books.
The good news for the naturally passive is that you don’t have to shout to make yourself heard. In fact, the message is really about self-care, not selfishness: call it conscious confrontation.
As psychotherapist Emma Reed Turrell, author of Please Yourself, explains speaking up for yourself can be uncomfortable but doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to support other people and help them satisfy their needs,” she writes. “The problem comes when we give up our own needs along the way.” Top line? Don’t be a people-pleaser.
Indeed, the self-help book of the year — Glennon Doyle’s Untamed — also focuses on the art of conscious confrontation. “Blessed are those brave enough to make things awkward, for they wake us up and move us forward,” she writes, referencing her own journey from feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage to finding love.
So, what are the tricks? Williams emphasises the importance of body language in giving you the confidence to speak your mind. Adopting a relaxed facial expression, uncrossing your arms and speaking in a low, steady voice are all useful confrontation techniques for anyone facing a contrarian grandparent or anti-vax uncle this Christmas.
And the festive season is the perfect time to hone your conversational warfare skills. If in doubt, try what Barbara Pachter, author of The Power of Positive Confrontation, calls her WAC (what, ask, check-in) technique: what is really bothering you; ask yourself what you’d like the other person to do; and check-in by suggesting a new positive plan of action.
Auntie Sarah ranting about 5G conspiracy theories? Challenge her not by asking what she thinks, but why. Being ghosted by the Bumble date you haven’t seen in two weeks? Ask him if he’s ghosting you and suggest he saves you both the hassle of pointless texting.
Doyle’s advice is to ask yourself which is better: uncomfortable truth or comfortable lies? “Every truth is a kindness, even if it makes others uncomfortable,” and I’m inclined to agree. Perhaps 2020 forcing us to be more confrontational is no bad thing. Want to challenge me on that? Bring it on.
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