5 Simple Truths About Non-Confrontational People

I am a non-confrontational person. And that confession, I believe, is more shaming in today’s society than confessing alcoholism or certain drug addictions. People are quick to make the connection between “non-confrontational” and “spineless”, “cowardly”, and “lacking leadership skills”. I’ve struggled with feeling non-confrontational by nature for years – since my early teens I’d say. It’s weird to feel shame about an aspect of your personality but have no desire to reverse it.

So I have some things to get off my chest. Non-confrontational people get a terrible rap, but maybe I can clear a few things up here. 

5) Most people are non-confrontational

Apart from those who have personality disorders, nobody finds confrontation particularly pleasant, and most anybody will avoid it when it’s not necessary. So ultimately what it comes down to is where you draw the line between necessary confrontation and unnecessary confrontation, and that’s a sliding scale. Some people will feel justified in starting a fight because someone else was wearing a logo for the wrong sports team. Other people will decide not to engage in a confrontation with someone who just called them a bell-end* for no reason.

We can all agree that the sweet spot is somewhere between those two extremes. But that can be a very hard sweet spot to hit. To land in it takes intelligence, courage, empathy, quick decision making, experience, confidence, and other qualities we all strive for in our lives.

Since your own individual propensity for confrontation can fall anywhere on a long scale, it feels silly to categorize people as non-confrontational or not-non-confrontational.

*Apologies for my unwarranted use of British slang

4) It comes with more good qualities than bad

Almost everyone focuses on the weakness that they perceive in those who are non-confrontational. And yet, if you ask somebody which type of personality they’d prefer to associate with, they will probably go with the non-confrontational one. While a non-confrontational personality might not be great in a war hero, in everyday life we value empathy, selflessness, politeness, and patience – all personality traits that tend to come packaged with being non-confrontational.

Granted, if you’re in that aforementioned “sweet spot” you probably have those qualities alongside the willingness to engage in confrontation when it’s called for. But the vast majority of people will fall further on one side or another, and what kind of person would you rather work with?

3) Yes, it’s not good for leaders

Everybody has to deal with confrontation at some point or another, and nobody gets to avoid it forever. In a professional setting, confrontations are bound to happen on a pretty regular basis, even if those situations maintain a sense of mutual respect and decorum. Workplaces are a competitive environment and competition is essentially at the heart of every confrontation.

People who wind up in leadership positions are downright required to deal with confrontational situations. Why do you think so many job interviews ask you to recall a conflict with a co-worker? And as stated above, most people are non-confrontational at heart, which means most supervisors, managers, directors, and so forth have to overcome personal obstacles to be effective at their jobs. And if they aren’t willing or aren’t capable of doing that, they create big, big problems.

We all know what happens when a boss is unwilling to confront a problem employee – perks are eliminated, new rules are implemented, and the entire group gets punished for the failings of a select few. Every manager I’ve ever had has said “I don’t like to micro-manage”, but they all eventually do just that, and the desire to avoid confrontation is usually at the heart of it.

2) It IS good for couples

This may seem counterintuitive, and I don’t expect to convince everybody who reads this of this particular “truth”, but it’s one I believe: Couples who are both non-confrontational stay together.

Here’s the brutal truth: Put any two different people together and in close proximity for long periods of time, and conflict WILL happen. It doesn’t matter how much anybody hates confrontation. These conflicts are often necessary, but sometimes don’t have a true resolution. “I’m this way, you’re that way.” In these conflicts the end product isn’t a resolution but merely the chance for honest communication.

If you put a non-confrontational person with a confrontational person, they will end up fighting about fighting (and create a rather hazardous power imbalance). If you put two confrontational people together, they will fight about everything. Two non-confrontational people will only fight about the things that matter, and will both desire to end the battle quickly.

1) It’s not always about fear

When I think on the memories that still haunt me after many years, they all have something to do with confrontation. But it’s not the memory of the confrontation itself that haunts me, it’s the memory of how I felt afterwards. Humiliation usually springs to mind. That’s where the fear comes into play – the fear that the way a confrontation plays out will result in a painful memory that lasts a lifetime.

But typically, when I choose not to engage in a confrontation, it has more to do with discomfort than with fear. It’s like when somebody makes it a priority to hit the restroom before a long car ride through the desert. That person doesn’t “fear” having to go to the bathroom, they just know how uncomfortable it is to be stuck in that situation and act accordingly.

On the rare occasion that I have a good deal of time to consider whether or not to confront somebody, what goes through my mind is “how will my confrontation make this person feel? How likely are they to do what I want if I go through with it? And is it worth making that person feel a certain way about me in order to get what I want? How will this affect our relationship?” Those thoughts are a manifestation of the discomfort that comes when faced with the possibility of going against my empathetic nature. It’s entirely different from fear.

I realize this sounds like I’m giving myself a lot of credit. Make no mistake – I’ve let fear talk me out of plenty of confrontations (and dealt with the subsequent humiliation), but those are rare occurrences. When I avoid confrontation and don’t feel humiliated or defeated, I know I’ve done the right thing. I imagine that’s how most non-confrontational people feel. It’s the loneliest of triumphs. payday loan bad credit

Comments (13)

  1. Jacqui

    Dear Jon,

    Thank you for sharing. I learned a lot about the world and myself through your post, which was well written. I’m a better person having read your post as I now have resolution and understanding on this issue, which I’ve lobg pondered about regarding someone important who was on my life until recently.

    Best,

    Jacqui

  2. Nikia

    I enjoyed your article I am too non-confrontational. I don’t really know what it is. I actually been like this since pre-teen years and I don’t know why. I rather just walk away and say the hell with a person than argue about something that’s not gonna be resolved. My thing is that I really don’t care to argue unless it really matters.

  3. I feel the same way about confrontations. Always have the notions that “its not worth winning an argument to lose a friend” which is why I would rather ignored the situation unless its completely necessary.

  4. Kathy

    In simple terms, conflict is nothing more than confrontation of opposing opinions or ideas.
    More often than not, it’s the inability to handle conflict and not necessarily the conflict itself that initiates problems between partners.
    Leaving a relationship at the first sign of conflict often made it seem like the other person has done something really terrible when in fact it’s fear around conflict being more likely the true source of the problem.

  5. I like to judge the importance of the conflict/argument/proving I’m right/you are wrong with how this confrontation is going to make the other person feel. I like to stop and consider whether I care more about the feelings of the other person than I do about “being right.” Very helpful information in this publication.

    remember tthink

  6. Katrina

    Sorry this article was utter nonsense.

    Good job at trying to justify not making a stand when needed.

  7. Darcy

    I have a sincere and personal question. What about in instances of self-respect? I find that my nonconfrontational husband would much rather walk away in a situation that is demeaning to him and our relationship than have self-respect and stand up for the most important thing, us! Any encouraging words to get him through the awkwardness?

    • Jon

      I tried to draw a distinction in the article between being non-confrontational in general and being unwilling to engage in conflict when it matters – and I failed, judging by some of the comments. I want to be clear: taking a stand, and being willing to fight for what’s right (as opposed to fighting for your own sense of superiority) is an important human characteristic regardless of what type of personality you are. Unfortunately, those who are pathologically averse to conflict may often find themselves backing down at the wrong times, and that’s just as damaging as misplaced aggression. The only way someone can get better at a behavior that doesn’t come naturally is to force themselves to engage in it and PRACTICE. It can be hard to predict when conflict will occur but if you ever sense conflict approaching, that’s when you tell yourself “I’m not going to walk away from this if I’m in the right”. Keep reminding yourself about the hard facts of your situation, and try not be overcome with concern over the discomfort of the fight itself. The first time will be hard (and you may even fail), but the next time will be a little easier. And you’ll find that reaching a resolution in a conflict where you stuck to your guns is a way better feeling than the momentary relief of avoiding one.

  8. Deborah A Finley

    I am not confrontational because I can tell when people provoke reasons to confront an individual. I believe that most confrontational people lack self-esteem and feel powerless and in order for them to feel any self worth they become confrontational in order to steal some ones power. I am not confrontational because I know myself and is more than capable of handling a confrontational person, however I choose not to show the fearless person with in me, because I can be trouble and hard to handle.

  9. Mary

    I used to be a lot more confrontational. Or maybe I wasn’t – perhaps I was more defensive than anything else because I don’t remember starting conflicts, just being drawn into them.

    But I know I am actively non-confrontational now. I go out of my way to avoid confrontation at the moment – but I think that’s as much because I am always tired and just don’t have the energy for it as because I know I can be as difficult and hurtful as the other individual, and I don’t like being that person.

    But what you were saying about having a bad rap for it is true enough – too often in the past I have been hurt badly (usually by someone I care about) when they have had a go at me about something and rather than fight back, I have backed off and removed myself from the vicinity having borne the brunt of their rage and ranting (nothing physical). And then had to deal with the shredded tatters of what remained of me.

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