Successful Confrontation

Have you heard of the mindset theory? I intended to discuss the importance of confrontation and discovered this handy piece of supporting evidence to my discussion.

(Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, extensively wrote about and described Mindset Theory here.)

In an article about relationship advice, Cari Romm summarizes the theory and the two mindsets nicely: “The gist is that people tend to approach life one of two ways: those with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that a person’s abilities and traits remain more or less unchanged over the course of a lifetime, while those with a ‘growth mindset’ believe that those things can develop over time.”

I want to show how I am connecting this to the importance of confrontation in our lives, our relationships, and the workplace. It’s only fitting, per my usual writings, that these lessons come from relationships and community. If you knew me personally, you would probably think it humorous that I am writing about confrontation. To be fair to myself, I’ve come a long way over the years.


Confrontation. These words provoke so many feelings in people. We’ve heard all the directives, the guidance, the tips, etc., on how to handle conflict. At least, I think we have, right? If not, there are many resources out there.

Right now, I want to encourage you of two main things: foster an internal and external awareness, and I want to lessen your fear of confrontation.

Confronting You (internally)

This principle of confrontation begins with yourself. If you don’t figure out how to confront yourself, you won’t ever productively confront outside yourself. This is where Dweck’s mindset theory comes into play, especially as I discuss awareness. In this context, a ‘growth mindset’ is clearly the goal. Our abilities and traits are not fixed forever. Just like our bodies, we can grow and develop over time. Our relational abilities, skills and talents, and career growth.

In order to spur that growth in us, we must confront the issues within ourselves. Another mentor of mine always says, “Your reactions are windows to your soul.” It’s so true. Do you ever look at how you respond to people, to situations, to emotions, etc.? What things immediately irk you? Do you lose your cool far too easily? Your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions is so critical. You need to be aware of them in order to assess them. Give yourself some grace in the process, and don’t be afraid to dive into those reactions. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to postpone your dive into some issues if you need to as well. One day at a time.

What Would You Do

For example, let’s say someone says they can’t do dinner with you when you asked them to. Do you immediately assume they don’t like you or are avoiding you? Or at work, someone asks why you did not do something a certain way. Instead of discussing about this, do you become immediately defensive and blow your top? These are two minor examples, but you can see how these reactions are coming from some insecure place within yourself without any evidence to your faulty conclusion (at least at this stage of the example). These are things that are worth checking within yourself to see if you can adjust and grow. In my experience, this usually simply involves allowing more space and grace for yourself and for others.

Confronting Others (externally)

As you begin to understand these things internally, you will better understand the reactions of others. This especially applies to those you know better. Don’t assume you can ever perfectly read someone; take the time to talk things out with others and learn about how they are responding and why.

And as I said above, don’t be afraid of these confrontations, and the hard feelings. We are human and need to make space for that. One way I often think of these growth spots is, ‘it’s either I grow or I regress.’ Instead of evaluating the difficulty of a situation, realize that you either will grow past this or get stuck under it. That usually helps push me the extra hurdle.

Success to Learning

Carol Dweck says, “A growth mindset, on the other hand, attributes success to learning. Therefore, the individual is not terrified of failure, because it only signals the need to pay attention, invest effort, apply time to practice, and master the new learning opportunity. They are confident that after such effort they will be able to learn the skill or knowledge, and then to improve their performance.”

Out in the World

Now that you’ve removed all fear from your conflict (sarcasm), and you are aware of your internal and external environments, these lessons need to be applied to your world. This is honestly where the real work starts.

I know, in the Federal working environment, conflict avoidance is ripe. It is more apparent and destructive in leadership roles. Leadership carries a larger responsibility regarding conflict, which is acknowledged. Also, the negative outcome and regression will be greater when conflict is avoided. Now, an entire team, or organization, is hampered by simmering conflict which has been avoided.

I’m sure you all are apart of communities, teams, organizations, etc., where you can see this play out. What I would like to highlight is that you need to learn the lesson of making those confrontations within yourself, and in your small world, before you can do it well on an organizational level.

And remember, it’s either growth or regression. There is not much of a status quo. Even if it takes a lot of time, and requires a lot of effort, the growth and fruit of your efforts is worth so much more than the pain of the regression. Remember the success of learning.

I’d love to hear your stories of success or learn from the not so great ones as well.

James Abyad is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He lives in Alexandria, VA, and loves people, food, music, geography, languages, and Tolkien. His full-time job is just another basic federal employee, specifically a contracting officer, while fully enjoying the Washington, D.C., region. After studying International Relations and Arabic at American University, he aspired to work in diplomacy or a related non-profit; yet, like most millennials, he is trying to pay his student loans off first. So, in the meantime, you can find him investing time in family, friends, community, church, spin, and eating. You can read his posts here.

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