Close your eyes and picture someone whose behavior you need to confront. It could be a spouse, co-worker, friend, boss. Perhaps they’ve said or done something where once is too much, and if it’s left unresolved, it could potentially damage the relationship.
Now imagine that person is standing right outside your door at this very moment, waiting for you to confront them. What do you feel? I would guess nervous, anxious, fearful?
The truth is, most of us are uncomfortable with confrontation. I certainly was until I learned a few key steps outlined in FIERCE CONVERSATIONS. This best-selling book by Fierce founder and CEO Susan Scott has done wonders to take the edge off confrontation, and it's now a conversation I welcome rather than avoid.
If you enter a confrontation without preparing beforehand, your fears of it going badly are more likely to come true. The conversation may steer of course, emotions are more likely to take the wheel, and you may find yourself at a dead end. Or worse, with a bigger problem than you started with.
So you know there’s an issue at hand that’s in need of a confrontation. What’s next?
For me, it boils down to four key steps in preparing for this conversation:
1. Name the issue.
If you’re planning a confrontation, get clear about the issue. Be specific. What happened? When and where did it happen? How did you feel? Why is it an issue? If there were multiple incidents, try to think of at least one specific example so the other person has a clear idea of what the confrontation is about.
Keep in mind that you’re confronting an issue, not a person. Sometimes when we feel emotions like anger or disappointment, we can make the mistake of labeling the person as the issue. If you enter the conversation this way, I can promise you the result will be less than peachy.
Which leads me to the next step…
2. Change your context.
When we think of confrontation, we often picture ourselves in an adversarial position: Fingers pointed, squared off on opposite sides of the table, smoke coming out of our ears. . But if we break down the word “confront,” it begins with the letters c-o-n. In Spanish, the word “con” means “with.” So to confront is really to be with someone in front of an issue. Be open to hearing their side of the story and stay curious.
Now, isn’t that better? Picturing yourself side-by-side with someone as you examine an issue together calms the nerves and positions you both to work towards a solution. This shift in context is not only powerful in bettering your approach to this conversation, but the confrontations you have will also be more successful as a result.
3. Write an opening statement.
With confrontation, preparation is key. When the person you are confronting realizes what is happening, they will (naturally) turn inside, briefly panic, or momentarily leave their body as they’re lost in thought. Therefore, your thoughtfulness in the words and tone you choose, the examples you use, and your clarity about the situation is paramount. This is not the time to “wing it.”
Start by naming the issue. From there, state your intention to resolve the issue.
In our CONFRONTATION PROGRAM we offer our 60-second Opening Statement as a terrific framework in achieving this and please note the “60-second” piece. Going on and on about how you’ve been wronged will only steer the conversation off course. Keep it short, keep it clear, and keep it clean.
4. Practice, practice, practice.
Once you have a solid opening statement, practice delivering it to another person who’s not involved in the issue—a person you trust and who has your best interests in mind. Reading it to yourself versus saying it aloud are two wildly different animals. You may be surprised at how much emotion leaks into your voice (and your face!) when you share your statement verbally. Saying it a few times aloud will help you work through those emotions so that you can deliver your message clearly and without a big emotional load.
As with many things, adapting the right mindset while taking the time to properly prepare goes a long way towards ensuring success. Confrontation is no different. Now that you have these tools, I encourage you to open the door and face your fears. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
While confronting anyone is intimidating, confronting a boss adds an extra element of “yikes.” For tips on how to confront an authority figure, read our recent post here.
This blog was originally published on February 25, 2011 on the Fierce blog; last updated October 2018.