How to Have a Successful Confrontation Principles to Apply to Difficult Conversations
When it comes to confrontation people tend to shut up or blow up. When something is bothering them, they bottle in it, only to retaliate later. Or, they face off without forethought, getting so worked up emotionally, they spew venom.
We must take a healthier approach. It is imperative we understand the core principles to apply when we discuss issues that bother us. In any relationship, problems most often arise because we don’t know how to resolve frustrations.
We can all improve in this area. Let me share with you some thoughts and principles I have learned to apply when facing confrontation.
[You may also like my article: Do You Hate Confrontation?]
Five Principles for Successful Confrontation
- Don’t think of it as a confrontation. Think of it as a conversation. The minute you turn a confrontation into a conversation—a calm dialogue—you have succeeded.
- It’s about the relationship, not the problem. People with great relationships rarely have confrontations. When you are worried about a difficult conversation, chances are the relationship is poor. Fix the relationship. Otherwise, you will go from one difficult conversation to the next.
- Have a platform for dialogues. Schedule a regular time to talk that includes open communication. This is a time when both parties are invited to discuss what’s on their minds. When these conversations are routine, confrontations melt away into discussions.
- Discuss points of view and options. Confrontations often stem from different perspectives and opinions. When you look at your perspective as the only right way to do things, and the opposing person does the same, the conversation turns into a competition. Avoid facing off by subtly altering your language. Make a new habit to say, “This is how I see this…”or, “This is one option we can try…” These statements leave the door open for discussion and communicate that you are open to other ideas. Encourage the other person to do the same.
- Handle things while they are small. As soon as you sense there is a problem, address it. Be a potential problem sniffer. I once had a dog who, even when she was sound asleep, would lift her head suddenly and sniff the air when I was cooking something she liked. Be just like that. If you sense any small thing starting to creep up in your mind, acknowledge it immediately. And at the right time, address it with the other person. Your regular time to meet is often a safe place to talk about it openly.
Seven Steps to Conduct Difficult Conversations
Sometimes, perhaps at work, you may have to address an issue with a coworker or your boss. Keeping in mind the principles I discussed above, here are seven practical steps I recommend to conduct difficult conversations.
- Choose the right time. When is the right time? When neither people are emotional. The ideal time is when both people are physically rested. Think of a child, when they are tired they are less likely to have a reasonable conversation. As adults, we have the same tendency.
- Ask to speak with the person alone. “John, do you have a moment? I would like to run something by you please.” Keep the invitation to the conversation as non-threatening as possible. Remember the goal for dealing with conflict is resolution or prevention, not condemnation or putting down the other person. Approach it from that angle, even as you invite them to speak with you. Alone is key, if it is appropriate.
- Pay close attention to your own body language. Sit down, lean back in a relaxed stance, have pleasant facial features. Lean forward when you want to convey concern. Imagine with me that you take someone to a room and you stand, or stand over them, as they sit. Your body language is inviting them to be defensive even before you say a word.
- Use the right tone of voice. Be kind, warm, and direct—not loud or aggressive.
- Start by apologizing when appropriate. Even if someone is 99% at fault, I like to find the 1% where I am at fault and start there. “I am sorry, John, for pushing you so much the last few weeks to get the project done. I really am.” Then I stop and listen. I want John to take that in and know I am not going not to attack him. Most of the time John will say, “It’s no problem. I’m actually really sorry I yelled at Steve in the office yesterday.” If John does not say that, then I might say, “John, I want to mention something about what happened yesterday…” Here I also pause to see if John will say something more. If he does not I continue, “The way things went with Steve yesterday was a bit outside of what I want to see on this team.” When you approach people in this respectful manner, they will usually respond positively.
- Listen. I believe listening to be the most important part of these conversations. If both people listen and don’t interrupt, resolution is on the horizon. Here is another conversational skill: when people interrupt me, I stop and let them talk. If you’ll do that, they usually stop interrupting.
- Say what needs to be said, clearly. A non-threatening approach to these conversations must in no way become an exchange where you don’t say what needs to be said. Say it gently, but say it.
[You may also like my article: Say It Gently, But Say It.]
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