I was recently asked by Marie Claire to give some tips on confrontation and the more I thought about it, the more I realised how unfortunately deciding whether to “confront an issue” is likely to be a choice we have to make most days.
Be it a rude barista, road rage, unsatisfactory service in a restaurant, return of faulty goods, someone bashing into you in the street or unfair treatment at work.
The list goes on and on.
Personally, I’ve never been good at confrontation.
Although I’ve had no problems confronting an issue, it was how I handled myself during the confrontation that was generally a disaster.
I either got my facts all wrong or would lose my temper to the point of embarrassing myself (spitting would often happen) or I would get absurdly nervous.
I never quite got it right.
Not to sound like a broken record to those of you who read my blogs, but you’ve guessed it, I’ve since done a lot of work on myself and find myself in a situation today where I actually don’t like confrontation at all (I’ve realised I definitely used too) and prefer to shy away where I can.
But I’ve also learnt my boundaries and I now have a gate keeping system in place to know when are the times I absolutely have to confront an issue or when I don’t need too.
So, drawing on my own personal journey and now my training as a Coach, I believe I’ve come up with the one stop shop for your confrontation woes and in this blog, I’m going to answer the following for you:
- What exactly is confrontation?
- Why are some people naturals at confrontation and some not?
- Difference between good confrontation and bad confrontation?
- How to know when it’s right to confront?
- How to confront properly?
Here we go.
- What is confrontation?
The dictionary definition of confrontation is:
“A hostile or argumentative situation or meeting between opposing parties”
A fairly harsh statement outlining confrontation in its truest form, but not necessarily true to real life.
Confrontation to me is more like addressing a concern or airing a grievance.
It doesn’t have to mean hostile or argumentative, although I concede it rarely feels comfortable to confront an issue.
- Why are some people naturals at confrontation and some not?
Some people are just naturally good at confrontation. They know exactly what to say and how to say it
They come across as being assertive as opposed to being aggressive and normally get their way.
Why is this?
In my opinion, it’s a real mixture of several factors: upbringing, past conditioning, past experiences, self-esteem, confidence levels, fear of failure, fear of not being liked, being out-numbered & attachment to a particular person or outcome.
The good news is, confrontation is a skill you can learn.
- What’s the difference between a good confrontation and ‘bad’ confrontation?
I’ve given this a lot of thought and for me, a good confrontation is one that was:
- Non-hostile from my side.
- I was calm.
- I didn’t raise my voice.
- I used no physical force.
- I was articulate and factual.
- I was not emotional.
- My objective for the confrontation was achieved. I’ve walked away with what I needed.
A “bad confrontation” is the exact opposite of this.
99% of the time; a quiet confrontation or rather a “calm confrontation” is more powerful than shouty confrontation.
It’s rarely productive to shout or be intimidating when confronting someone.
In fact, shouting generally makes a person look unprofessional, too emotional and unstable.
However, it’s vital to be firm.
Calm but firm.
I always tell my Client’s to think back to a time when either they lost their temper during confrontation or they witnessed another party losing their temper.
How did it look?
I can guarantee not good.
- How to know when it’s the right time to confront someone?
It’s a case of knowing yourself basically.
If you’re a fiery person, it’s about having the appropriate gate keeping system in place to stop you confronting when you don’t need too or ensuring you have a system in place to enable you to confront properly when you have too.
Going back over your confrontation history can help.
Think back to confrontations that you’ve previously had:
- What went well?
- What went badly?
- Are you pleased you had the confrontation?
- How did you come across to a third party who witnessed it?
- What would you do differently?
If you tend to avoid confrontation, then think back over those times when you haven’t confronted an issue and wished you had:
- What were they?
- Why do you wish you had confronted them?
- What was the consequence of not confronting the issue?
- Would you encourage your children to confront this issue or walk away?
There is no magical answer here, it’s a case of knowing yourself and being as clinical as having a strategy in place to help you deal with confrontation.
- How to successfully confront someone?
I’ve a confrontation strategy that I use and have done for the past five years and it serves me brilliantly.
I won’t go into the full details, but in general my confrontation rules are the following:
- I never confront based on a knee jerk reaction unless it’s something out of the ordinary. But it has to be something pretty outstanding for me to confront it there and then.
- I give myself at least 24 hours to mull over a potential confrontation issue. If I still feel the need to confront it, I will fall on the counsel of a third party to run past how I’m feeling and why.
- Unless out of the ordinary, I never confront rudeness with rudeness. I respond with a smile or kindness. I know that 9 times out of 10 I walk away feeling good if I do this.
- I know my boundaries and therefore I know when they’ve been crossed and I know when I have to confront an issue.
Life is not black and white so it’s hard to have a full proof confrontation strategy and be able to act on it on impulse.
However, being prepared is always going to put you in a better position.
So below are some tips that I believe will help you to successfully confront someone:
- Golden Rule Number 1 is don’t raise your voice and don’t lose your temper. It shows a lack of control. It’s ok to show frustration, but as far as possible keep your sh*t together and don’t lose it. You will regret it afterwards.
- Body Language is important as we all know, so be conscious of what your body language is telling the other person. Try to adjust your position to a non-hostile one. For example, sitting down rather than standing up. Allow enough personal space. Be aware of facial expressions: don’t smirk for example.
- Prepare for a confrontation and make sure you have a clear objective in mind. What exactly do you need to clarify? Practise what you are going to say. Make sure the language you intend to use is not aggressive. If it’s going to be a hard conversation; script it and practise it. Make sure you have appropriate back up or proof. Be it statistics, evidence or proof. More importantly make sure you have your facts right.
- If you are the orchestrator of the confrontation make sure the environment is conducive to the confrontation you are going to have. Plus make sure the timing is right.
- Use statements such as “I’m concerned about”, “I believe that”, “My worry is”, “I heard something upsetting and I would like to discuss it with you”.
- Don’t waffle. Be concise in what you have to say and then STOP.
- Find common ground. Establish what you agree on and then proceed to the tricky stuff.
- Ask for moral support. If you’re scared of confrontation ask a third-party to be present.
- Know when to pull the plug. This will come with experience but come up with a “Time Out” radar. Is it when voices are raised? Or after a certain time period?
For some people, it’s a case of knowing that in the situation of a confrontation that under no circumstances do they ever raise their voice.
Or, they know in the situation of a confrontation that they need space in order to formulate their thoughts. For this they know they have to excuse themselves to have thinking time before continuing.
Or they know that during a confrontation that they are to listen to the other person and come back with a solution at another time.
Not to react.
Obviously, it depends on the situation but it really is as simple as coming up with a confrontation game plan.
I believe that for most people, good confrontation skills have to be learnt.
It’s extremely important that I point out that confrontation is part & parcel of life, so possessing a set of good confrontation skills is vital and like any skill, need to be honed, refined and practised.
I hope this helped you.