Last week I discussed how the anticipation of confrontation is usually much scarier than the confrontation itself. One of the main reasons is the negative connotation usually associated with confrontation.
Many have had painful experiences confronting or being confronted, leading people to avoid confrontation at all costs. The result is that unresolved issues fester because no one is willing to deal with them.
Confrontation doesn’t need to be a traumatic experience. Here are some suggestions to improve your experience.
When to Confront
Not every issue on which you disagree with someone else merits confrontation, but some
do. Not every relationship matters enough to you to justify the emotional energy of
confrontation, but some do. A good general rule: When you care a lot about both the issue
and the person, it may merit confrontation.
Plan the Confrontation
Effective confrontation requires planning. Think through how you will approach the person,
what you will say, how the person might respond. The goal is to prepare yourself mentally
and emotionally for the confrontation, not to become obsessed with all the possible nuances.
Seek a Safe Environment
The confrontation will more likely result in a positive outcome if the environment feels 'safe'
to the person you are confronting. Examples of 'unsafe' environments: in front of a large
group of people, or across from your desk if you are the person's superior. Try to find more
informal, neutral or "home" turf for the person you are confronting.
Most people will respond better to confrontation if you allow them the opportunity to help
schedule it. Some personality styles insist on this, and will respond negatively with a
demand to "talk about this issue now." A better approach: Inform the person that there is
an important issue that you would like to discuss with him or her. Ask when would be a
good time to get together and talk about it. The person may respond, "Let's do it right now,"
but will nonetheless appreciate the opportunity to have declined.
Be "Hard on the Issue. Soft on the Person"
When confronting, it is important to be open about the issues which concern you. ‘Beating
around the bush’ is often perceived as manipulative and confusing. Dealing clearly with the issue does not mean you also have to be hard on the person. It is often helpful to
(honestly) affirm things you appreciate about the person even while you are identifying
issues that concern you. If you are in a long-term relationship with that person, affirm your ongoing commitment to that relationship.
Own Your Feelings and Beliefs
During the confrontation, speak for yourself, not for others who aren't there. It is particularly unhelpful to say things like, "Everybody else feels this way about you but doesn't have the courage to tell you." Instead, own your own concerns through the use of 'I-Statements'. For example: "I felt angry and confused last Thursday evening when you said that no one in our group cared about you. I care a lot about you and it hurt me to hear you say that I don't."
Be Honest About Your Own Preferences
The general reason for confronting is that we are hoping for a change of behavior in the
person we are confronting. It is generally helpful to be honest about your own
preferences, rather than to leave the person guessing as to what you are hoping to see.
An example of a preference statement: "I would prefer that in the future you come to me
personally when I do something that concerns you. I've found that I respond best when I'm
confronted one-on-one, rather than in front of a group.”
Be Prepared to Listen
Anytime we confront someone, we are asking them to take our concerns seriously. Often
these concerns are issues of a personal nature about which the person may feel very
strongly. It is essential that we be prepared to listen to the person after we have
shared our concerns. A possible way of helping this to happen: 'Thanks for listening so
carefully when I shared my concerns with you. I don't expect you to instantly agree with
everything I said, and I really want to hear your perspective. How do you think and feel about
the things I've said?"
Accept Confrontation as a Normal Part of Life
While few relationships need daily confrontation, it is inevitable that in most caring
relationships, confrontation will occasionally need to occur. Once it has, accept it as part of
life. It would be unhelpful to try to pretend that it never occurred, or refuse to talk about it
later. In fact, the person confronted may need ongoing opportunities to talk about the
issues that were identified in the initial confrontation. At a later meeting, you may wish to
offer this opportunity. "Thanks again for the way you listened to me the other day when we
talked about our financial concerns. Have you had any further thoughts since then that you'd want to share with me?"
Be Willing to Be Confronted, as Well as Confront
When someone else confronts you, concentrate first on understanding their concerns. This is best done with paraphrasing, or "active listening." Before responding to the person's concerns, state something like: "Before I respond to that I want to make sure I understand what your concerns are. If I understood correctly, you're concerned about X, Y and Z. Is that right?”
Of course, these considerations will not guarantee a "painless" confrontation. When we
identify issues of personal concern we are risking our own vulnerabilities by asking another
person to be vulnerable with us. Such a process is not without risk, and there is no
assurance that we will maintain control of it.
But people who have approached confrontation with these considerations in mind report that the experience was generally more positive than they expected. When we deal clearly with issues which divide us, rather than attacking the person who disagrees with us, we often develop new insights and even a deeper relationship with the person with whom we disagreed.
If you find you need some help preparing for a confrontation in your life, let’s connect!
Call or Text: 778.932.1978
About the Author: Steve currently resides in the sunny Okanagan in British Columbia Canada where he spends his free time camping at remote lakes chasing monster rainbow trout with a flyrod.