If I were to ask you what your definition of confrontation is, what would you tell me?
You might say. “Janis, the idea of confronting someone makes me want to vomit! You may be someone who believes that confrontation means that there’s yelling, insulting and criticism involved. Maybe you define confrontation as something that never turns out well.
Today’s post is all about how to understand what confrontation truly means, what fears underly those who avoid confrontation and how you can think differently about speaking up for yourself, so that you don’t take the easy way out of a situation; giving up an opportunity to let go of unnecessary unhappiness.
Most of you don’t like the idea of confrontation. To be honest, I don’t either. And, most of you who know me, KNOW that I am direct and don’t back down from a chance to stand up for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I am not packing boxing gloves in my purse everyday. But I do allow myself the option to stand firm, with dignity, when I DO choose to directly respond to someone who has offended me.
I am not afraid to be clear about my position. I can be flexible in my thinking and show compassion for someone with a different point of view. And most importantly, I have learned how to “choose my battles.”
I have also learned to become comfortable with intentionally creating a moment where there can be awkwardness, tension, and egos fighting for center stage.
For most of you, I realize that confrontation is equivalent to a disturbing experience.
The idea of creating a space where there could be tension, anger, arguing, increased vulnerability and emotional grid lock isn’t the number one past time on people’s list of “what makes life awesome.”
I get that.
Unless you are someone who is feels confident facing the strong will of another person, you aren’t going to be in favor of initiating a conversation with someone about an issue that cause you discomfort. And, that’s ok.
I am here to tell you that your concept of a confrontation doesn’t have to mean that a verbal attack will ensue or that someone’s feelings will get hurt.
I teach many of my clients that there is an art to communicating with others that creates an increased level of comfort for both people. It’s a great strategy and I will share it with you shortly.
Let’s first understand what the real purpose of confrontation; to clear up something by either getting an explanation about an issue, alerting the other person to the pain that they have caused you, collecting a genuinely remorseful response or to get someone’s help to resolve an issue.
I know you are saying, “Well, Janis, that sounds really good, but I’m not entirely convinced yet. The idea of confronting someone still feels thorny.”
Ok , then, lets look at why confrontation feel this way.
It feels this way for three reasons:
1. Because you aren’t sure what they best way is to adequately express your pain in a way that doesn’t open yourself up to more vulnerability.
2. You aren’t sure how the other person is going to react to what you have to say.
3. You aren’t sure what you are going to do in response to the other person’s response, should it not be favorable.
You simply don’t have a plan. And if you don’t have a plan, you might tend to avoid dealing with something all together.
People avoid conflict and confrontation for some of the following reasons:
1. You believe issues will just go away on their own if you ignore them long enough
2. You aren’t sure how someone will react to what you share and you anticipate being yelled at, told that you are foolish for having had such thoughts and feelings and are criticized for speaking up
3. You have too much pride to discuss something that upsets you because you believe the other person should bring it up first, signaling that you are right and they are wrong
If you are shaking your head “yes” to any of these reasons that explain why confronting someone is tough, then I don’t blame you for avoiding it! It makes total sense; you have convinced yourself that the problem is not solveable and, therefore, you have no influence over what you can do about it.
If you can re-define your concept of confrontation as something that is “do-able” rather than something that isn’t, you are stepping in the right direction.
I encourage people to write down everything that comes to mind about the particular struggle. Usually, through that exercise, clients tend to crystallize the root cause of the discord.
You might see that you are upset because of someone’s behavior, but, in fact, you are really upset about how it made you feel. Once you can identify the root feeling, your next step is to have a framework of communication.
An approach that has proven to be enormously effective for my clients and my friends is called the Speak from “I” approach.
This approach focuses only on the speaker and it creates a space for the person to engage honestly without provoking defensiveness and justification from the other person. You aren’t talking “AT” the person. You are sharing with the person.
Here are the steps:
a. When speaking, always speak from your center; what YOU feel, think, believe, know, wonder, experience, imagine, etc. It can sound like: ” I feel sad when you……” “It hurts that you….”
b. Stay your course. Often times, when feelings are shared, the person on the receiving end can become defensive, tangential or just totally not get what you are saying. So, you might have to repeat yourself , from your place of “I” ,until they hear that you aren’t attacking them, you are looking for help to resolve something.
c. Make it short and sweet. Most of us aren’t really looking to have extensive conversations to solve something when it can be addressed succinctly; but getting to the heart of the matter quickly can be quit intimidating.
Acknowledge that the idea of communicating what you really feel can cause you to feel anxious, nervous, angry, sad and/or scared. That’s normal.
Acknowledge your feelings and then thank them for being there for you. Yes, thank them for their presence; they remind you that what you have to say has meaning and that it matters.
Once you have “made friends” with your feelings, it’s time to formulate your message.
BIG HINT: Start out with some sweet first. What I mean by this is coming from a place of good will, where you are choosing to work things out, rather than accuse someone in retaliation for the pain they might have caused you.
This can sound like: “Hey, I need your help with something….” (By the way, this technique, which I call the “elevation technique” never fails to lift someone up into the position of expert and dips into their desire to help, since you are directly asking THEM for their special attention.) It can also sound like, ” Look, I know you come from a good place and probably didn’t mean to cause any harm, but I have to tell you that when X happened, I felt X. Will you tell me what you meant by that?””
3. Ask for what you need. This can sound like: ” I know you care about me and because you are a caring person, what I really want is for you to take more of an interest in what goes on with me. Can you try to do that?”
Truth be told, every relationship has some level of conflict; some more than others. The key is to learn how to resolve it in a way that works.
Congratulations! You just the first phase of becoming comfortable with confrontation.
Phase II: Doing it.
In love and light,