Confrontation. Just the word can make people cringe. It is often something we know we need to do but are reluctant and we try to avoid. There’s a negative connotation attached to confrontation, as though is HAS to be angry, someone HAS to take blame.
No one wants to be blamed. No one wants another person to feel badly because of an issue that needs to be faced. But difficult conversations are often necessary. Without them needs are not met, obligations not fulfilled, and resentments can build.
In my experience, bringing up something that can be uncomfortable, (see I don’t even like to use the word ‘confrontation’), I craft a story about what the other person will say, and then what I will say… and then what they will say… and it is only a story in my mind. I even try to talk myself out of bringing up the topic or issue to avoid the confrontation. Even the dictionary definition is scary. The Apple dictionary includes these:
come face to face with (someone) with hostile or argumentative intent
face up to and deal with (a problem or difficulty):
compel (someone) to face or consider something, especially by way of accusation:
And notice the word “face” in each entry! Not to mention, “in your face”, “can’t face it”.
I am a student of Compassionate Communication or Non-Violent Communication, that was developed by Marshal Rosenberg. I want to call him the “Father” of the “I” statement. He has a simple step by step way of bringing an uncomfortable situation to another by using, “I feel…” when (situation) because (a specific need or value) is important to me.” And then making a request of the other person. It is such a simple format. IT’S JUST NOT EASY.
During International Women’s Day Conference, I signed up for a workshop about conflicts and difficult conversations. We were able to practice crafting a statement that invited the other person to talk with us. It is similar to Rosenberg’s approach starting with an observation (not a judgement), and how that observed action impacts you. This makes an opening to look deeper by inviting the person to talk with you about what and how this can be addressed. It helped me get some clarity on an issue that I had. And then came the 3 “Ds”
These are three of the ways the person you have invited to talk with, might react. Hopefully it would be with responding, and curiosity, and sound like…“Oh I wasn’t aware of this, tell me more”, or “May I tell you more about this situation?”, or “How can I make it right?”. These are ideal situations. AND the reality is that sometimes the person you are face to face with may react with…
Denying it, (“No no It wasn’t me”, “I wasn’t there, not my fault”)
Defending it (Becoming defensive, “That’s not true, xyz said,…,” or “I didn’t know…”). (fill in the blank)
Deflecting it, (Changing the subject to some other aspect of this issue, “For the staff meeting tonight do you still want me to…”)
And then I came up with a 4th “D”, Don’t Say Anything – I would call this “Dodging it” and walking away.
The Deadly “Ds” can happen if the person you want to talk with, is caught off guard about the issue at hand. It can also happen with advanced notice because our “fear centre” gets triggered and we want to freeze (deny it), fight (defend it), or flee (deflect it).
Here’s a checklist to see what your default reaction is.
Do you automatically deny whatever is brought up?
Does your sentence start with
“No…. I didn’t mean that, or say that…”
“It couldn’t be…,”
“I don’t remember it that way…”
Or negate the issue at hand altogether?
Do you have an immediate excuse, or
Do you begin with
“That’s the way I was shown…”,
“I wasn’t my fault because…”
How many of these are familiar:
“I’m not the only one, yesterday in our meeting…”
“What about the time you…”
Or do you simply change the subject, “OK, but the file you asked me about is…”
Do you stay silent?
Do you walk away?
Do you announce, “I’m not talking about this right now.”
I am learning how to approach another person with a problem-
using “I” statements, stating how I am feeling and being affected,
owning my part in the problem if I have any,
being open to listen to the person and come to some kind of mutual agreement.
If I am inviting the person to discuss this matter, I must be aware of the 4 Deadly “Ds” and be ready to respond to their reaction with empathy, by noticing and asking if the person being confronted is feeling uneasy, or confused, or alarmed. Then noticing what is important to them at this moment, i.e., being heard, or wanting respect, even reassurance. This is extending empathy to the person who is being confronted.
If I am the one who is being confronted can I recognize my immediate reaction style and become present. Our brains are designed to detect danger, even perceived emotional danger. When I feel my own heartbeat begin to pound and my mind race I need a process to stay in the moment and reflect on how I am feeling. The first thing is to remember to breathe, …breathe deeply and notice what is happening within me. This calms my central nervous system and slows down the “Deadly D’s”. As the recipient of the invitation to talk with the other person I may feel threatened. Recognizing that feeling of threat and knowing that connection or equality is important to me at that moment, is what Rosenberg calls, giving ourselves empathy. Internally it could sound like,
“Yikes I’m nervous, I’m feeling scared, I need reassurance, safety right now”. I’m willing to ask for more information, and listen to this issue and recognize I am meeting my need for integrity and cooperation by working with this person.”
And I can ask to deal with this in an hour or so, meeting my need for clarity, and choice.”
Those Keep Calm slogans come to mind.
Keep Calm and Carry On.
Whether you find yourself in the position of confronting an issue that needs to be resolved or you are being confronted,
B r e a t h e. Signal your nervous system to be calm.
B r e a t h e. Allow your thoughts to slow down and become present.
B r e a t h e. Give yourself some empathy.
It is both courageous and difficult to confront or be confronted. Bring up some empathy for that other person the confronter or the confronted. Both have a need for mutuality, connection, and authenticity, consideration. Finding this common starting place will allow you to be present, listen to the words, listen to the intent. And when any one of the Deadly “Ds” show up.
B r e a t h e.
I am always interested in what came up for you when you began reading. Do you have other effective tools in dealing with uncomfortable conversations? You can share them by emailing me at: [email protected]
Until then, may you know the deepest levels of peace….
B r e a t h e
Pamela Van Nest CPCC, ACC, GCC
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I am convinced there is a deep source of wisdom and knowing, deep within you, just waiting to be heard.