Confrontation is an inevitable part of life. At work, in our romantic relationships, with friends and family and even with that annoying customer service representative who doesn’t seem to be listening. No one is going to agree with you 100% of the time, unless their brain is turned off.

Confrontation doesn’t have to be detrimental  to our relationships. It can be an opportunity for growth, change and understanding. Something all of us could use. Especially in a time when we use technology to communicate most of our needs.  It’s turning us into text messagey/ facebook fighters.  And it is impossible to get someone’s tone, nonverbal cues or a general feel for how you’re doing in the conversation if it’s just a bunch of misspelled words on your cell phone screen.

So when is it worth it to confront an issue? And how can you do it, without damaging the relationship or your self-respect?

In her book I Hate Conflict: Seven Steps to Resolving Differences with Anyone in Your Life, Lee Raffel, MSW outlines the following key questions to ask yourself:

  1. What is the purpose of your confrontation?
  2. What do you hope to gain by confronting?
  3. How do you anticipate others will respond if you politely confront them?
  4. In the event of a confrontation, what outcome are you seeking?

It is important to remember the original purpose of why you need to confront someone in the first place. Make sure you are looking to talk about one concrete and current thing! Leave the past in the past. It’s not fighting fair if the reason you are talking now is because your partner won’t help around the house but you bring up that time he didn’t look at you the right way 6 months ago.

Focus on coming to some agreement, not winning. The goal of confrontation is to bring about a change, not to make the other person feel bad. When you go into “battle,” have in mind some of the things you are willing to negotiate.  Compromise is essential. You can and should agree to disagree sometimes. Being accepting of someone else’s requests in a conversation and being flexible now, could result in the other person being more willing to agree to your terms later on.

Below is an assertiveness script I use with my patients that can help you to organize your thoughts.

  • STEP 1: “I think”- This statement should be referencing facts or observations you are making about someone’s behavior.  The key is to make sure that it is non-judgmental in nature.
  • STEP 2: “I feel”- this is where you would use an “I” message about YOUR feelings regarding the person’s behavior. “I” messages allow you to take ownership of your feelings, without attacking or criticizing the other person. This is not to be confused with a “you” statement. “You” statements pass judgement and blame onto the other person.
  • STEP 3: “I want”- This is the place where you gently share the 1 specific, measurable behavior change you are looking for right now. This should be about behaviors and not attitudes. You simply cannot change someone’s world view.  Imagine how hard it is to change your habits. It’s impossible to change someone else.
  • STEP 4: “Self care statement”- This is the optional part, where you get to tell the other person what you will do to take care of yourself or your needs if they can’t comply with your request.

An example of all of this put together would look like this:

A wife is increasingly more frustrated because her husband is staying late at work and not letting her know when he’s on his way so she can start dinner. This is causing a problem, because she feels he is being inconsiderate and she wants him to be home to eat with her.

Wife: “I think you have been spending a lot more time at work without calling to say you’ll be late. I feel sad when you aren’t home when you say you will be. I would like for you to call me before 5 PM on work nights and give me an estimated time of arrival. If you are unable to let me know, I’ll make dinner for myself and have to leave you the leftovers to heat up for yourself.”

This opening statement can bring about a few different results, with more room for positive outcomes.  If done in a nonjudmental and assertive way, the husband may not have  realized how he is affecting his wife and can make the effort to change, to be more attentive. He may also need to say his own piece, about how work is important to him and he needs to stay late to get tasks accomplished. Notice that she is not name-calling or assassinating his character. She is taking ownership of her feelings, asking for something reasonable and maintaining her self-respect.  Which is a vital part of communicating effectively.

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