3 Points for Dealing with Confrontation
Confrontation is, unfortunately, a natural part of life. As a teacher, I deal with confrontation with disruptive students. As a coach, I deal with confrontation with immature athletes. As a professional, I deal with confrontation with disagreeing colleagues. As a roommate, I deal with confrontation when the trash does not get taken out. As a friend or a girlfriend, I deal with confrontation when my feelings get hurt. Throughout my young 20-something life, I have been faced with some tense situations and have developed some wisdom in dealing with these sticky situations:
1. Keep it solution based: Whenever I am dealing issues, I always try to keep it solution based. What tends to happen is we spend so much time pointing fingers and saying what the problem is that the conversation just keeps circling and it never seems to go anywhere, which never leaves anyone satisfied. So, once the problem has been targeted, I always try to steer the conversation in the direction of, “Ok, so what can we do to fix it?” Sometimes, the person at the receiving end might just drop the conversation altogether, because they realize it is a petty issue; if there is no logical solution, then it’s probably not worth wasting time over. In my household, we always tend to fight about who does “the most work”, because everyone always feels like they do way more than everyone else. So, I always try to steer the conversation to be about how we can evenly divide up the work: create a list and a weekly calendar. In my last relationship, we would always argue over the fact that I felt he would forget to call me most nights. So, we came up with a call schedule (well, I actually got him a car charger with a picture of myself on it but that seemed to prove a point).
2. Always Blame Yourself: This was actually the topic of church this week. As humans, we are naturally selfish, so we often first blame everyone else for our faults. When our bank accounts go into the red, it is because gas prices went up. When relationships fail, it is because the other person wouldn’t go to marriage counseling. When a professional relationship fails, it is because the other person is stuck up and inflexible. However, there are always two sides to a story, and although another party could be to blame, it is always important to think about how YOU could have contributed to the outcome of a situation. Did you have a bad attitude and say something insensitive? Did you get lazy and forget to respond to that e-mail? Were you acting out of semi-unconscious malicious intentions? Whenever I approach someone about a situation, I try to throw myself under the bus first; “Hey, Ned, I noticed that you snapped at me during that meeting. Was there something I said that was uncalled for?”, “Hey Jessica, I noticed that things have been awkward been us lately. Did I do something to upset you?”, “Hey, Jay, I heard that you were talking about me. Is there an issue I am unaware of?”. I always try to keep the blame on myself, because whether it is my fault or not, people are always more receptive; when we start pointing fingers and placing blame, people often get defensive and that never ends well.
3. Use ‘Reflective Listening’: This is actually a technique that I learned at my college research internship that works so well, even on adults. Basically, you just repeat back to someone what they just said in the form of a question. The idea behind this is that it validates to them you heard what they just said and it allows them an opportunity to expand on their thoughts. In dealing with confrontation, it might lead them to the conclusion that the issue really is not a big deal after all. Sometimes, all we need are for our feelings to be validated. It looks like this:
Person A: “I feel like I am the only one who takes the dog out”
Person B: “Oh, you feel like you are the only one who takes the dog out?”
Person A: “Well, yes I have taken her out three time this week”
Person B: “Oh, you have taken her out three times this week?”
Person A: “Yes, well, I supposed you took her out a lot last week…”
And voila! Confrontation dissipated!
What I think is so interesting about language is the power it carries into our emotional wellbeing. As the structuralists say, language is arbitrary: the word ‘cat’ only means ‘cat’ because we prescribe that meaning to it; ‘table’ could also be a ‘cat’. Especially in dealing with confrontation, it is interesting that, all we need to do is change the way in which we use language, and we can get a completely different outcome.