Confrontation is difficult. The thought of telling someone she is wrong, or she lied to us, or she hurt us, can be debilitating. We often find it’s easier to pick a fight with our spouse than simply sit down and say, calmly, “You are being disrespectful and that is unacceptable.”
While many of us would just like to ignore problems, or fight it out without necessarily solving anything, life is not so accommodating. People do stupid things, even cruel things. People make mistakes. Relationships change and expectations need to be adjusted.
So how can we navigate the stormy waters of confrontation without falling into a fight? Here are my top three tactics.
1. Ask Questions
We make lots of assumptions in conversations, and that’s not always a bad thing. However, some assumptions can lead to resentment, anger, or fear. I mean, what man wants to hear “We need to talk” from his wife? They all assume they’re in trouble! But maybe she just wants to talk about her boss at work, or ask a logistics question. It doesn’t matter, because the man is starting the conversation from a place of defensiveness and anxiety. So if you find yourself feeling fearful, angry, or surprised, ask a question! Here’s an easy formula to use:
- When you said ____, I assumed you meant X and became afraid/angry/nervous/defensive
- What did you really mean by ____?
2. Be Cheerful and Stupid
I can’t take credit for this tip from Dr. Joy Browne, but I certainly use it! This is useful when you have extra information that is unconfirmed. We all hear gossip, make accidental discoveries, overhear snippets of conversation. This can lead to an assumption that seems like a confirmed fact. But until we hear the words from the other person’s mouth, it’s not confirmed. (I know people lie, but that’s another blog post). Being cheerful and stupid brings lightness to the discussion and allows you to ask questions without being accusatory. It can also open your mind to a new point of view.
3. Give the Benefit of the Doubt
This is the most powerful way to bring peace into confrontation. When you assume the person in question acted in good faith, your mind will automatically be more open to a resolution. In addition, you are freed from anger and other relationship blocking emotions. The classic example is when someone stands you up for an appointment. You can be angry at her selfishness, chronic lateness, absentmindedness, etc. Or you can assume that something prevented her from arriving and be concerned. Regardless of why she actually didn’t show, when you confront her with concern for her health and safety, the entire conversation will move from argument into affirmation.
These are my 3 favorite tips for bringing peace to confrontation. Are you dreading an approaching conversation? Let’s talk about it!