Confrontations are hard. They are difficult because they often leave a bad taste. The person you are confronting may choose to deny, disagree, resist, or if he’s sincere, there may be an apology, but it’s never a pleasant conversation by any stretch of the imagination. It could be between a manager and a worker, between two partners, parent-child, two friends, between teams or even governments. Sometimes positive and constructive confrontation is the only way to get past a disagreement. Think of confrontation as a type of conversation; an undesirable one, the type that can make people feel ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, angry and more. So, let me offer you the three golden principles of confrontation.
Don’t raise your voice
It’s absolutely critical to not shout if you want any positive outcome. Think about this: we confront someone because we want them to listen to us and accept that they acted irresponsibly or it caused us pain. The only chance you have of getting them to listen to you is by not raising your voice. Why? The human mind is naturally open to pleasant conversations. When you keep your voice low, they may disagree but their brain won’t allow them to shut you out. The primary difference between a conversation and an argument is the pitch and tone of the voice.
Disagreement may be there in both cases but in an argument, both parties are talking when none is listening. When you shout at anyone, they immediately turn off and withdraw. Their mind shifts from conversing to completely avoiding the issue or being defensive. On the other hand, if you talk about it in your normal tone, you may feel they haven’t understood the seriousness of the situation, but your words will find a way into their mind. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll change their ways though.
Remember, the goal of any confrontation is to have the other person see your perspective and to have them cease from acting a certain way. You can’t accomplish this by putting them down or attacking them. Give them a chance to save their face. Start with the assumption that they made a mistake. Without violating the first principle, if you keep the focus on how their actions are hurting you and the relationship, or, how it’s not in their own best interest, they are likely to listen to you better.
But when we attack the other person by saying, you did this and you did that, you are like this and you are like that and so on and so forth, we create a giant barrier and now they are on the other side of the fence. They turn defensive and to protect themselves, they launch a counter-attack. This defeats the purpose, the distance increases, and both people end up angrier.
This is the hardest of the three. Often, when we confront someone, they want to evade the issue. To avoid any explanations, apologies or consequences, there’s a natural tendency to deviate from the real issue. If both get carried away, it becomes impossible to retain any sense or sensibility in the confrontation. It will quickly turn into a heated argument or a violent disagreement.
When the other person digresses, just hear them out, let them finish and then politely persist with the primary issue because if you deviate as well, it’ll become a pointless argument resulting in a lot of talk but no conclusion. It is paramount to stay focused and to keep it to the point. For example, if you want to confront someone about being late. Only talk about the present instance. Don’t start talking about how they are always late, how they are not efficient or competent and so on.
Once again, bear in mind that the objective of any confrontation is to make the other person aware of their certain actions you disapprove of. It is not to demean or deprecate them. Therefore, your selection of words, tone, gestures and timing will make a huge difference to the outcome. That said, if you have to confront someone more than a couple of times over the same issue, there’s little hope they’ll ever mend their ways because for the wise and sincere, even a subtle hint is more than enough. If the other person is not willing to come clean, no conversation or confrontation, however done, can yield any result.
A friend approached Mulla Nasrudin to borrow his donkey for a few hours.
“But, I don’t have my donkey. It ran away last night,” said Mulla, “and, I can’t find him.”
His friend looked at him skeptically. Mulla maintained an affirmative and quiet mien. Just then the donkey started to bray loudly.
“Mulla! I can hear your donkey in your house. You lied to me! I thought we were friends.”
“Exactly! Are you telling me you trust a donkey’s braying more than your friend’s words.”
Life is colorful because of the various shades; not all colors can be white, not all can be red or black; not all dialogs can be pleasant or desirable. Success in relationships — professional and personal — depends a great deal on your ability to handle difference of opinions and on how you hold unpleasant conversations.