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I want to be better at handling conflicts. How can I use confrontation to deal with a toxic situation or person?

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The word toxic was used so many times in 2018 that it became Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year. It was used in searches related to chemicals, substances, and waste. Interestingly, it was also associated with relationships and the environment. 


According to Oxford Dictionary, a toxic environment has been commonly used in the context of the workplace. Toxic workplace environments are harmful to our mental health and in 2018, there was a renewed awareness and resistance against toxic workplace culture. 


On the other hand, toxic relationships refer to not only romantic relationships that harm us, but also those with our family, friends and those around us. 


However, the word toxic does not actually have a definition based on psychology. And our definitions of what is toxic and who to label as toxic is not as simple as it may sound.


Dealing with conflicts


While we do not want to mislabel someone or something, and we don’t want that done to us as well, we may come to agree that we all have room to grow in our conflict-resolution skills. 


Conflicts are a natural part of human relationships, in and out of the workplace, but we can definitely improve our awareness and skills. 


Be aware of problematic behaviors.


Our feelings and our body’s reaction to stress give us clues to how a person or situation affects us.  Whenever we find it hard to deal with a person or a situation, we can ask ourselves, “What is in this person’s behavior or what is in this situation that makes me feel the way I feel?” 


This allows us not to simply label the person or event as toxic, but it increases our awareness of problematic behaviors. Here are some examples of problematic behaviors: 

  • Showing self centeredness most of the time
  • Consistently displaying manipulative behaviors and other emotional abuse
  • Repeatedly lying or being dishonest 
  • Lack of concern or compassion for others
  • Tendency to create conflict and show emotional volatility 
  • Tendency towards negativity, criticism, complaining or whining
  • Engaging in disrespectful communication
  • Tendency to violate other people’s boundaries (privacy, space, time) 

By being aware of these behaviors, you can start protecting yourself from harm and if applicable, you can have a conversation with the person to resolve conflicts. 


Have a conversation about boundaries.  


If the relationship is important to you and you want to resolve the conflict, then you might want to talk to the person. Start with being emotionally prepared for a difficult conversation. 


  1. Be present during the conversation. Confrontation is always hard, so being committed to connect with them during the conversation makes the conversation more tolerable. 
  2. Have the conversation with grace. Our tendency is to protect ourselves from harm and discomfort, but being warm helps to lower both your guards. You are both able to receive each other’s words compared to when both of you are angry. 
  3. Make it a conversation rather than a lecture. Allow time and space for both of you to talk. Share your feelings, and facilitate their sharing as well. 
  4. Connect despite your disagreements. Know your purpose before the conversation. You are there to reestablish connection and foster understanding. Knowing this makes you curious about the situation, rather than proving who’s right. 
  5. Focus on solutions. During the conversation, take time to point the situation towards seeking solutions. When you are able to come up with them and agree, good! If you  don’t then you can walk away. 

Your side of the relationship is being aware of your own behavior, your own contribution to the conflict and talking with the other person with compassion and grace so that both of you will have healthy boundaries and enjoy a positive relationship. 


If it does not work, know that you are only responsible for what you can control. Stay grounded and healthy!


Work on your healthcare or mental health career by connecting with rewarding career opportunities!

I want to be better at handling conflicts. How can I use confrontation to deal with a toxic situation or person?
Brandon Resasco

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