Three Keys to Effective Confrontation

confrontationIt takes courage to confront others . . . well, let me qualify that. It takes courage to confront others right! Anybody can blow up, say something mean or hasty or brush through a confrontation without giving thought to others’ feelings. But it takes a lot of intentional thought, courage and patience to successfully confront people properly.

Let me share just a few pointers I’ve learned about confrontation that might help you next time you find yourself preparing for this super intimidating experience.

1. Remember the Goals of Confrontation
Contrary to popular opinion, the goals of confrontation are not to be right or get back at someone who hurt you. If that is truly why you want to talk, it’s better to simply keep your mouth shut. When your goals include the following, then you’re almost ready to begin.

  • A Better Understanding
    Your goal is to gain understanding where it is lacking. There is almost always something you don’t know about the situation. You may lack context which drove the offense. There is often emotions, motives & outside circumstances that you were completely unaware of. Confrontation should be a truth-seeking venture to help you understand others’ perspective better.
  • A Positive Change
    Your goal should include a positive change. In other words, whether the offense is rooted in something you did or said or not, you should wholeheartedly desire to help others learn and grow through the confrontation. It should seem more like a learning or coaching experience than a hand-slapping experience.
  • A Growing Relationship
    If strengthening and growing your relationship with the other party is not a goal, then again, it may be better to just leave well enough alone. Your goals will drive your behavior and what you say. If you genuinely want a stronger relationship after the confrontation, you will naturally ensure that happens throughout it. If you think there is a good chance the confrontation may burn bridges or destroy the relationship, you will take stock and make sure the confrontation is truly worth it before proceeding.

2. Begin With Three Fingers Pointed at Yourself
It’s an old illustration, but it works well. Whenever you point your finger at someone, there will always be three other fingers pointing back at yourself. Before you begin any confrontation, the wise person will evaluate their own motivations, feelings and thoughts first. Each finger is asking one of the following questions:

  • Am I Part of the Problem?
    Is it possible that the conflict in question was somehow impacted by your actions? Did you not communicate something clearly? Is there a chance your lack of participation discouraged others? Is there anything at all that you might have done that could have helped prevent the conflict from taking place? Be open & honest with yourself before you sit down to talk with others.
  • Am I Telling Myself Ugly Stories?
    Some of us have a tendency to assume the offending party was intentional about hurting us. We make up stories by patching together random events from the past and by attributing motivations to the person that he or she may never have had. We label them in our minds with words like, “mean” or “rude”. Or we imagine things like, “they hate me” or “they are so cocky”. If you enter into a confrontation with stories like these in your brain, the whole conversation will be seen through that filter and you won’t find the healthy resolution you are seeking.
  • Am I Being Defensive In My Approach?
    If you are feeling defensive before or during the confrontation, your chance of success has been neatly cut in half, if not ruined from the start. Most people can read a defensive stance from miles away – and what it usually means is that they need to take up the same stance as well. If you look like you’re ready for a fight, I guess I better get ready too. That’s how we emotionally respond. Resolution will never be made if our goal is to protect ourselves. 

3. Move To One Finger Pointed At God’s Servant
Just this morning I heard a story about a woman who has been able to experience a restored relationship that you and I would probably have thought impossible. When asked how she was able to put up with all of the pain and disappointment she experienced while trying, she simply pointed out, “if God loves them so much, who am I not to”. A great reminder to us all. We should be asking ourselves:

  • Am I Treating Him/Her with Honor?
    We dishonor God when we dishonor His people. We should approach every conversation with a holy reverence, as approaching one of God’s most fascinating and beautiful creations. 
  • Am I Assuming the Best?
    Rather than telling ourselves bad stories, we should do the opposite. Why not make up stories of why the conflict may have happened that believes the best of the person, rather than the worst? Taking this approach will help you relax, it will honor the person you are confronting, and it will empower them to confess wrong motives if they are there – because they won’t have to be defensive.
  • Am I Taking Our Differences Into Account?
    It would be very presumptuous to assume that others think the same way as you. We all process life differently, we make choices differently, we view life through a different filter of expectations, experiences & values. This is often even more true if you are working with individuals from other ethnicity’s or cultures. I will bring value to the conversation by removing my assumptions and expectations and seeking to understand the frame of reference others come from.

These aren’t academic points to me. I work hard to honor them during confrontations. And when I don’t I always regret it. Ironically, it gets harder and harder to successfully confront the people we care about and love the most. Which is why it’s so important we work at it together.

Which of these three points do you forget to do most often?

photo credit: gabaus via photopin cc

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