Hands down, most of us do not relish the thought of confronting another individual. And, why should we? By its definition, to confront someone means to engage in a conversation with another about a situation or topic that makes us feel uncomfortable. For the most part, it places us into a state of uncertainty, making it difficult to predict the other person’s response or how it might play out. In general, we often find it easier to simply ignore or walk away from the distress and discomfort of it all. However, there are those inevitable times when clarifying our position and drawing the line become impossible to avoid. So, what can we do? How can we effectively confront another individual and come away with positive results?
Whenever you elect to confront another person, take time to identify why you want to do this and what you expect to achieve from it. Explore the merits of taking such a risk and carefully evaluate its potential impact on yourself, the other person, and anyone else who might be directly affected by it. Do your homework. Gather enough facts to be credible when you meet with the individual. Be cognizant that both your intent and how you approach your interaction will determine the outcome.
If you desire the best possible outcome, set yourself up for success with these simple steps.
(1) Before confronting a person, set up reasonable expectations along with potential consequences in the event the individual is unwilling to address your expectations. To keep on a productive track, rehearse what you plan to say and how. Avoid sarcasm or any inflammatory words like always and never that might exacerbate an already sensitive situation.
(2) Keep your message to the person simple and to the point. Stick to the facts and don’t overwhelm the person with a laundry list of issues.
(3) Clearly state your concern and feelings about it. Be direct about what you expect to see changed and your consequences if such changes aren’t addressed. Don’t waiver on your expected outcomes or your consequences. If you appear to be indecisive, you have lost command of the conversation.
(4) Before, during, and after the interaction, keep your emotions under control. Once you become angry, defensive, or distraught, you have greatly reduced your likelihood of a successful outcome.
(5) Expect the person to become defensive. Be prepared to hear the person out without becoming argumentative, disruptive, or insulting. Your best defense is to maintain a calm and collected demeanor. Use good eye contact, nod on occasion, and allow them to speak without interruption when the time comes.
(6) Meet in an area that is conducive to a private conversation. Avoid distracting places like a busy restaurant or a small cubicle at work where people can listen into your discussion.
(7) As in most tense situations, deal with it as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more convoluted it will become.
(8) After you have made your point, stop talking to allow the person adequate time to comprehend your statements and to ask for clarification if necessary. Refrain from repeating yourself unless additional explanation is required.
(9) Don’t make this about the person. Focus on his or her actions and what might realistically be changed. Attacking a person’s character or expecting a person to change the impossible is a recipe for disaster in the future.
(10) If the person becomes overly aggressive and offensive, put the conversation on hold until the person can calm down. You may have to physically remove yourself from the situation to avoid further hostility.
(11) Throughout the conversation, sprinkle in sincere compliments to validate the person’s self-worth. End the meeting on a positive note and with a sense of closure.
12) As you confront the person and afterwards, don’t apologize. It will detract from the importance of the conversation and your message to him or her.
In both personal and professional settings, you can’t correct what you aren’t willing to confront. Whatever your topic of tension, execute a well-designed course of action that will allow you to relieve your stress and move forward. And, ideally, your execution will produce a more honest and rewarding relationship with the other person.
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Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living
Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A. in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University and a contributing member to LEARN Idaho. Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging. As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.
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