For a confrontation to become a beneficial episode, it should provide the following outcomes:
- The other person’s behaviour changes in the manner desired.
- The self-esteem of the other person is preserved.
- Your relationship with the other person remains intact.
These outcomes can be realised if you remain objective about the other person’s undesirable behaviour, listen to the other person’s response, identify the effects, describe future expectations, and commit or agree to future behaviour.
2. Choose the time and place.
Don’t fuel the fire by initiating any conflict in public. Also avoid confronting people after a hard day, before an event at which they have to be at their best, when they are dealing with a mistake or loss, or when they’re working under the cloud of an imminent deadline. Choose time and place carefully. Sensitivity to the other person’s circumstances is always important, but in a conflict it is critical.
3. Keep your cool and listen.
Listen to everything the other party is saying and not just for what you want to hear. Don’t let the other person’s tactics unsettle you. Remember the adage: Never answer an angry word with an angry word. It’s the second one that turns anger into confrontation.
Give yourself time. Keep calm and tell your adversary that you would rather discuss the observable facts and not personal opinions. You’ll find that your actions will enable a focus on solutions rather than an attribution of blame.
4. Develop strategies to cope with confrontation.
Learn to accept conflict as inevitable and develop tactics to handle it when it occurs. Coping mechanisms include:
Count to ten. Deep breathing helps to lower your emotional temperature, and can even cool the other person’s anger.
Take 5. If you’re not getting anywhere, postpone the encounter.
Set a time. Regroup, get your house in order, and resume.
Go for a walk. It is often easier to talk about difficult issues during a long walk. It also solves the problem of what to do with your hands and any difficulty you have with eye-to-eye contact.
Use ‘I-language’. State your case in terms of your own feelings.
Agree. Where appropriate, agreement defuses most confrontations.
Side-step. Maintain strong and confident eye contact for a second or so – then move on.
Rehearse your responses. Thinking afterwards, ‘I wish I would have said that’, indicates you weren’t prepared.
Control voice tone, tempo, volume, and nonverbals. It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
5. Switch from content to process.
You talk about ‘content’; how you deal with content is ‘process’. When no progress is being made with content, it is often because the process is not working. So, try to negotiate a better way of dealing with the process. You might say, ‘John, I’m getting a bit frustrated because I’m not getting anywhere. You don’t wait for me to finish what I’m saying, and I don’t believe I’m conveying what I want to say to you. I can’t operate that way. Can we work out a different way of doing it?’
6. Settle it now or postpone it.
If you can resolve the issue without attempting to allocate any blame, do so. But, if necessary, don’t be reluctant to call a halt to things and set a time and date for resumption. Your actions will show that you’re taking the problem seriously and want to resolve it in the fairest way possible.
7. Consider involving a third party.
A ‘win-lose’ outcome is really ‘no-win’ because it usually means that people are locked into their set positions, any goodwill is gone, and the goal is to win only. You need to break out of that mind-set by considering other options – like using a third party. Often the dynamics of a situation will change in the presence of a third person. If there is someone who is trusted and respected by both you and your adversary, enlist that person’s help to see the problem through to a successful conclusion.
8. Arrange a follow-up.
Just as it is helpful to keep your conflict focused on the specifics of the problem, it pays to keep the solution focused on the specific action that will be taken. Set a follow-up date to meet again to discuss progress – and to strengthen any shaky bridges.