Staying Silent to Avoid Conflict?

I once knew someone who used to hold extensive conversations in her head with people with whom she was angry. She rarely spoke directly with the other people. The anger in her mind continued to build because of her frustration, yet she never let others know that she was frustrated and upset.

Her way of avoiding conflict almost ruined her relationships because she wouldn't let others into the conversations she was having with herself- in her head. It was almost too late by the time she did bring others into the real conversation.

Her need to avoid confrontation was so strong that she needed a safe conversation in her mind and felt this was the only way to deal with an issue. As you can imagine, this doesn't work - especially for the other people involved.

Sound familiar?


Do you stay silent when someone has hurt your feelings, or crossed the line?

Have you stayed silent and ignored destructive behaviour because you didn’t want to feel the discomfort of disagreeing?

Do you try to convince yourself afterwards that you weren’t upset and you weren’t angry?

How many times have you had conversations with others inside your head, letting them know exactly what you thought, exactly what’s bothering you, but never uttered a word out loud?

More importantly, what was the impact on you?

Of course it’s easier to just say “yes” or not say anything at all and pretend everything is okay. The urge to bury your own feelings instead of finding the words to express what you really feel is strong. It’s easier to swallow your frustration and pretend you will deal with it later, but honestly, you probably never will.

Science shows how most of us would rather hurt ourselves than sit with the awkwardness of staring someone in the face while telling them something they don't want to hear. That’s what we think anyways.

Temporarily, it's more comfortable and painless to remain silent and avoid confrontation, but over time, you might be doing more harm than good. If you are anything like me, you leave the situation beating yourself up while realising there were a million things you could have said and it could have ended straight away.

Confronting others about any issue is tough, especially if you learned to avoid conflict ever since you were young. Or, if you learned that conflict is associated with aggression and violence.

So why are you so afraid of conflict? Does conflict mean you are being negative and creating arguments with others? Or could it mean you are taking the opportunity to clearly state how you feel, regardless of what others’ reaction might be? When we silence ourselves, we take away our own power.

When you constantly avoid conflict, people around you don’t know where you stand and will most likely assume you agree or don't have a problem. Some people do however tend to vent their frustration to others who are not involved which causes additional problems because then it's seen as gossiping and doesn't offer a solution to the problem. If you're able to find the words to tell others about how you feel, then you should be able to confront the original person about it as well.

There are, of course, people who use any situation to put other people down while disguising it as “I’m just being honest” or “I’m just telling it like it is”. They don't really care about how they constructively can communicate with someone they have an issue with.

By staying silent, you feel like it’s easing our discomfort but maybe you’re just not used to confronting someone in an appropriate manner.


Tips when thinking about approaching someone:

Identify and write it down.

Make a list of the reasons why you want to speak up to your colleague. Pick the top three, and write them down somewhere visible, or memorise them. Remind yourself of these reasons regularly to help sustain your courage and desire to speak up.

Write down what you’d like to say to your colleague. This doesn’t mean you say it verbatim when approaching them it means you’re gathering your thoughts while making sure you say all you want to say.

Identify what you want out of the talk. What will make the situation better? What is your desired end goal? How can you clearly and thoughtfully state this?


Practice saying the words aloud. Practice saying them in front of the mirror. The more you practice, the more you’ll get used saying them without it being as awkward. Again, this is not about creating a script and saying it perfectly. When you practice the words beforehand, they are there as reminders of what needs to be said, especially when you get nervous and worry about offending the other person.

Stay calm and let go of expectations.

Be clear and use “I” statements so your colleague doesn’t get defensive. When talking to them, stick to the facts, make your statement and stop talking. By doing this you are showing respect and giving them time to respond.

Focus on how you felt and not what you think they did wrong. Be authentically curious about how they’re feeling, too. It is possible to be empathetic and direct. Speaking up for yourself doesn’t make you rude. It’s all about your demeanour when you approach someone and the words you use.

Resist the temptation to defend yourself if your colleague is not responding like you thought they would. Remember, confrontation means you get to say what you have to say and you listen to what they have to say.

Do you have a need to prove the other person wrong? Does someone have to take the blame or else you feel like it hasn't been resolved? Forget about who's wrong or right, or who's to blame and move on.

Avoid venting your frustration.

Assume you want to confront a colleague who undermined you in a meeting and took all the credit on a project you did together. Instead of saying, “You took all the credit, blah, blah, blah..." and venting your frustration, reframe your approach and start by stating what happened (the facts), how it made you feel (I statements) and what you want to change (end goal of speaking up). Remember, it might have been an oversight by the other person and not an intentional stab at you. Although that does happen as well.

If you’re talking to a loved one, especially someone who tends to get defensive, start your conversation on a positive note, be vulnerable and take some responsibility for the situation.


Conflict can be constructive when done right.

It helps strengthen your relationships by giving you the chance to get to know people on a deeper level, to meet each other’s needs, to stop resentment and other negative feelings. During a confrontation the other person can agree or disagree. The point is not for them to do either, the point is for you to express yourself.

Speaking up is not easy. But it does get easier the more often you do it.

Even when you stumble, it’s worth it to express your needs. It’s worth it to support and advocate for yourself. It’s worth it not to have a war within.

After all, if you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?