A lot of people avoid confrontation. Or at least they avoid it until enough anger and fear accumulate to create an explosion of emotion that powers a very adversarial and unfruitful kind of confrontation. In my last post, I talked about the goal of confrontation being connection. In this post I want to offer a few practical pointers about how to confront effectively.
- Manage yourself. Often we confront others as a means of trying to manage them. This is disastrous. Confrontation only really works as an expression of your commitment to manage yourself. If you’re in the confrontation to control, manipulate or exert any external pressure on the other person to motivate their change, then you’ve already lost. Instead, commit to managing yourself. You’re going to offer honesty, vulnerability, and honor to this person because that’s the kind of person you are. This is called self-control.
- Offer information about yourself. Instead of telling them what they should or should not have done, instead of giving them your best guess (judgment) regarding what motivated their choice, offer them helpful information regarding how their choice has affected you. Help them understand what you need in the relationship for the relationship to be healthy.
- Ask them questions about them. Don’t tell them about them. Ask them. Would you help me understand what that was like for you? To me that felt like __________. Is that what you intended to communicate? Is that the result you were hoping for? Rather than assuming the worst and being adversarial, you are looking to hear them, to understand them. You are giving them an opportunity to tell you what they meant and what their motive was. When you give them helpful information about what you have experienced, communicate your understanding of what the relationship needs, and then ask them questions about their choices, intentions and motives, it actually creates an opportunity for an internal pressure to develop that will expose weak spots in the relationship.
- Ask permission before you give advice. Since you are actually looking to strengthen them and strengthen the relationship, it’s no good to give unsolicited help. Forcing your wisdom and advice, forcing your “help” onto someone who hasn’t asked for it actually communicates that you think you are the strong one, they are the weak one, and that this confrontation is designed to protect that status quo. When you ask for permission before giving advice to your ten year old son, your spouse, your friend, or even your co-worker, you’re communicating to them that you think highly of them, that you respect their boundaries, and that you assume they can solve the problem without you and may not need your advice.
- Rightly assign ownership of problems. This process will expose problems in the relationship, messes that need to be cleaned up, issues that need to be resolved. You make sure that you’re prepared to own your stuff and clean up your messes. Make sure that you’re prepared to let them own their stuff and clean up their messes. If they’re not willing to do that, then you’ll need to establish some boundaries. If you’re not willing to own your stuff then perhaps they will need to set some boundaries. But if both people are committed to the relationship, and this process exposes the places where growth and change is needed, then each participant has the chance to powerfully act to build connection without blame, control or manipulation of any kind.
This approach doesn’t guarantee any particular outcome. You can’t control how the other person will respond. But you can control who you’re going to be, and the relationship has no hope of health apart from your commitment to do that. For more on this, I highly recommend Danny Silk’s book Keep Your Love On, and his teaching Keys to Confrontation.