How to Deal With People Who Resist Confrontation

Do you know someone who doesn't know how to act in the face of arguments and who, instead of talking, opts to remain silent? It isn't easy to live with someone who avoids addressing everyday problems and differences. What can you do in these cases?
How to Deal With People Who Resist Confrontation
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 02 May, 2024

Hardly anyone likes arguing, getting angry, or dealing with injustice. However, there are some people who resist confrontation at all costs. But, knowing how to face a situation with intelligence, assertiveness, and respect is a life tool that strengthens our relationships. Indeed, disputes are frequent in life and we need to know how to deal with them.

It’s completely natural for couples to argue. In fact, there are few occurrences that are more common, apart from our occasional clashes with family members, colleagues, and sometimes even friends. After all, no relationship is perfect or one hundred percent harmonious.

As a matter of fact, well-managed arguments give texture and flexibility to a relationship, and can even reinforce it. But, in reality, this can be quite rare, because immaturity in the art of confrontation is pretty standard. Indeed, many people dodge it. Instead, they employ aggressive and even manipulative actions.

You’ve probably experienced the effects of this unskillful conduct at some point. We’re going to explore this kind of behavior.

Behind the individual who resists confrontation lie fears and a lack of social skills and emotional intelligence.

estranged couple representing people not confronting
The lack of ability to confront creates a great distance between people.

People who resist confrontation

Knowing how to confront other people is an essential survival and well-being tool. Exposing our feelings and beliefs and defending our own rights, without burning the bridges of our relationships, is a terrific competence. Yet, many of us feel overwhelmed by the uncomfortable emotions that differences and discrepancies provoke.

We’d reap great rewards if we were educated from childhood on the ability to not fear confrontation or see it as a threat. We’d understand it as just one more part of existence in society. Moreover, those who can’t deal with confrontation would find it easier to manage the anxiety and inherent frustration they suffer.

Because they lack the skills to do so, people who resist confrontation suffer more than we might think. This is something we must understand. In fact, their discomfort is so intense and their emotional restlessness so caustic, that it leads to extremely problematic behaviors, both for themselves and others. Let’s take a closer look at these personalities.

One of the most common effects of resisting confrontation is the use of silent treatment.

1. Fears and pain avoidance: don’t make my life difficult

People who resist confrontation wish their lives were a walk in the park. They frequently try to avoid pain and discomfort and evade the responsibility of dealing with difficult situations. In addition, they’re gripped by numerous fears. Here are some examples:

  • Fear of not appearing competent during difficult conversations.
  • Feelings of panic regarding failure. They worry about imposing their own truths or point of view on others.
  • Fear of loss. They’re afraid that, during an argument, they’ll lose the other person by saying something wrong.
  • Fear of tension. They fear experiencing an accumulation of stress and emotions that are difficult to deal with.
Fears and avoidance underlie this type of behavior.

2. They resort to silent treatment

Non-confrontational people often use silent treatment. This means that, when they come across a disagreement or something that makes them feel uncomfortable or angry, instead of talking about it, they choose to keep quiet. They’re the kinds of situations in which they tend to insist to others that “nothing’s wrong”.

The University of Tennessee has researched this behavior. In a study, they explain that it’s a phenomenon that appears frequently in relationships. Those who don’t talk about what bothers them and hide behind silence are displaying dysfunctional, immature, and even manipulative behaviors. Unsurprisingly, this further intensifies the conflict or the differences between them.

3. Reacting with anger instead of responding with intelligence

Some people are so fragile that, at the slightest touch, they explode like a nuclear power plant. In fact, those who resist confrontation often indulge in the most problematic of emotions: anger. They frequently resort to the ‘eye for an eye’ technique. In other words, “If you do something that upsets me, I’ll do the same to you, only worse”.

Not knowing how to confront can give way to two types of behavior: aggressive and passive. The latter define individuals who, by not contradicting or arguing, are unable to express their opinions out loud.

4. Passivity: keeping quiet and giving in to avoid confrontation

So far, we’ve described the kinds of people who employ aggressiveness and even manipulation. Not talking about what bothers them, leaving a vacuum, or, on the contrary, acting vengefully, are really problematic actions. However, there are also many people who, in order not to argue, give in, hide, and remain silent.

These are people who don’t confront other people for fear of losing a relationship or disappointing or contradicting them. Consequently, they choose not to give any clue to their contradictory opinions or anger. This harmful type of forbearance creates an extremely damaging form of passivity for those who practice it.

Colleagues talking about non-confrontational people
We must try to communicate with people who resist confrontation and help them express themselves with respect.

How to treat people who resist confrontation

None of us come into the world with confrontational skills embedded in our DNA. We have to learn good emotional management and correct social and communication skills.

However, what do you do if you have a partner who, every now and then, gives you the silent treatment as punishment? Or, how do you act with a colleague who, instead of saying what bothers them about you, responds by stabbing you in the back? It’s not your job to educate those people who haven’t matured in the art of dialogue in the face of arguments, but you can set them an example.

When you’re faced with people who resist confrontation, tell them what you’d like them to do and clarify the effects of not communicating respectfully and intelligently. Make sure you do it patiently and respectfully. Tell them that their problems will become chronic if they don’t address them. Explain that communication isn’t harmful, but the mishandling of it is.

As we journey through life, it’s always a good idea to acquire new tools with which to better navigate our relational oceans. It’s just a shame that not everyone takes this step.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Buss, D. M., Gomes, M., Higgins, D. S., & Lauterbach, K. (1987). Tactics of manipulation. Journal of personality and social psychology52(6), 1219–1229.
  • Schwabe, J & Gollwitzer, M. (2020). Explaining third-party reactions in interpersonal conflicts: A role-taking approach. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 24(6). 136843022090832. 10.1177/1368430220908328.
  • Wright, Courtney & Roloff, Michael. (2009). Relational Commitment and the Silent Treatment. Communication Research Reports. 26. 12-21. 10.1080/08824090802636967.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.