Confrontation. It’s one of those words that makes us cringe. The word is often associated with negativity or hostility. We automatically think that confronting someone means aggression, anger, and blame. The Latin root for the word “confront” is confrontari, which means “to stand face to face with.” The ability to work through obstacles – in family, work, and life- requires the skill of having difficult conversations. Sometimes we avoid these encounters out of fear of how, when and where to confront. Perhaps the other person won’t accept what we’re saying, or become defensive. Once we get past the fear, it is possible to have that conversation we’ve been avoiding.
How do you know when it’s time to confront? If the issue just won’t leave you alone – you’re replaying it in your head over and over again- it’s probably a good indicator that it’s time to address it.
- Start the conversation with a positive statement. “I care about our relationship and there are some issues I’d like us to look at together and figure out a way forward.” In the workplace, this might sound like, “I care about the good work we’re doing here and I think there’s more we can do to improve upon that.” (Here we have 2 people looking at the problem together rather than accusing or blaming each other).
- State how you feel rather than pointing the finger. Perhaps you’ve heard this formula for effective communication – “I feel ____when you do ____.” It really works to get your point across, with enough practice.
- Be flexible – allow for the possibility that you might not have it right. “I might not have understood correctly, but here’s how I experienced it” or “Here’s how it came across to me.” “Help me understand it from your point of view.”
- Choose your words in a way that shows that you are on the same team. It’s OK to say outright, “I’m not attacking you; I want us to look at this together.” This achieves 3 things: an affirming, positive effect; prepares your intended recipient’s listening ears and inhibits any defensiveness.
- If the other person begins responding defensively, don’t allow for distractions to the current subject. “I’m glad to talk about that, but for right now I’d like us to stay focused on ___.”
- Acknowledge your part in the problem. All relationships are a dance and we’re all capable of missteps at any given time.
- Make your desired outcome clear. Here are some practical examples: “I’d like us to come up with some solutions that will help us.” “My desire is that we can disagree without yelling.”
- Try to be as specific as possible. “Can we agree that you’ll ____?” (Perhaps with a date attached).
Prepare for the possibility that it might not go well. If you’ve done all these things but the individual is not listening or responding, then the next step is to set boundaries. If there is an ongoing pattern of disrespect, your next conversation will be more about making it clear what your response will be the next time the behavior occurs. Serious issues such as alcohol/substance abuse, or disregard for your physical boundaries/personal space may require the intervention of other supporters, including mental health professionals, clergy, or HR if in the work environment.
Have you experienced a healthy confrontation using these skills, either in the workplace or in a personal relationship? Tell us about your success below.
|Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.|