Last week, salmashawy18 asked a great question in response to Drama in the Dorms: “what if I cannot tell my friend what she did wrong [because] I don’t want to hurt her feelings [and because] she can easily be hurt?”
Wouldn’t it be great if our friends were perfect and never annoyed us or did anything stupid? Or if they were so cute that their tiny wiggling bodies and big eyes make it easy to forgive them every time they pooped on the floor? Oh wait, I think I’m mixing up species. My dog is not my best friend, I swear (but he is in the top 5).
Confronting a friend is difficult, no matter how trivial the problem seems. We care about our friends, and it's natural to fear that any confrontation with that person will damage our relationship. Yet, while this concern is definitely natural, I do not think it’s valid. Consider this quotation from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movie:
Carmen: I’m mad at my dad. Why is that so hard for me to say, Tibby? I have no problem being mad at you.
Tibby: Well, maybe sometimes it’s easier to be mad at the people you trust.
Carmen: Why? Why is that?
Tibby: Because you know they’ll always love you, no matter what.
Even if they're initially upset by a difficult conversation, true friends will eventually recognize that we’re addressing problems only because we genuinely care about the friendship. True friends are among the few people in this world who will always assume the best of us. Though talking to them about a problem will be a little bit awkward, a true friend will decide that the problem is putting a strain on your friendship and needs to be addressed.
There is, of course, a proper way to confront your friends. First, let’s look at what it means to confront someone. Though it often has an aggressive connotation in common speech, to “confront,” as defined by my bosom friend, Dictionary.com, can also mean “to present for acknowledgment” or “to bring together for examination or comparison.” Essentially, it’s important to make a distinction between attack and confront. When friends confront friends, it shouldn’t ever feel like an attack. Consider this example:
You: Hey, Becky, can I talk to you for a sec?
Becky, your backstabbing friend who keeps talking about you behind your back: Sure, what’s up?
You: I heard you talking about me on the phone the other day to Trisha and I just wanted to know if I had done something to make you upset.
Becky: Oh, um, well actually….
You: Hey, Becky, WTF, you jerk, I heard you talking about me to Trisha the other day. Why don’t you say it to my face, you coward?
Becky: Deuces loser. This friendship is over.
Here are a few tips for successful confrontations:
1. Go solo. Even if you and five other friends are all worried about the same girl, pick a representative to talk to her privately. One-on-one feels like a conversation; two-on-one or many-on-one will make that person feel like you and your friends are ganging up on her.
2. Listen. When you talk to your friend about an issue you’re having with her, or even a personal issue she has herself (like an eating disorder, a bad boyfriend/girlfriend, or uncharacteristically poor grades), be sure to talk with her, not talk (or yell) at her.
3. Take the pressure off. Try talking to your friend while doing something that doesn’t require constant eye contact—driving, for example. Breaking eye contact allows your friend to recover from any embarrassment or discomfort she might feel. The car is also a particularly good venue for confrontation because you can always turn on the radio to cover up any awkward silence that might follow your talk. You might even consider bringing a CD you both like and popping that in afterwards. Music mends. Even if your friend is supremely pissed at you after your discussion, she’ll likely defrost at the sound of her favorite song.
4. Focus on you. This might sound odd, but focus on your feelings and point of view. Remind your friend that you are only bringing this up because you’re worried about her, worried that whatever she is doing will hurt your friendship, or even because you yourself are kind of a pain. You won’t be able to avoid “you" phrases when confronting your friend, but you can always precede them with “I/me phrases.” Another example:
You: “Hey Julie, I know I’m being a pain, but it’s really hard for me to sleep with the lights on at night. Would it be okay if you just used your desk lamp? You can always use mine too if you need extra light.”
Julie: “Oh, sure! I’m sorry, I wasn’t even thinking.”
If Julie responds something like, “Well, can’t you get an eye mask or something?” You should continue to politely push the issue. Turn it back on her and innocently ask, “Oh, is your desk light broken? 'Cause you can always borrow mine.” But if Julie is actually your friend, it’s doubtful it will even get to this point.
Moral of the post: Don’t be afraid to confront your friends; just make sure you do so as graciously as possible. Think charitably, speak genuinely, and give your friend some space afterward (even if “space” means filling the silence with music, as in the car example). The situation is going to be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it should be avoided. As I mentioned last week, avoiding problems only does more harm than good. Gently grab the bull by the horns. A true friend will appreciate your concern.
Lindsay is so wise!! Have you ever confronted a friend successfully?
Related post: Confessions of an RA: Drama in the Dorms