How to handle confrontation (without losing your cool)
At work, 53% of us waste time stressing about clashing with a colleague – but whether it’s your career or personal life, you need to master the ‘C’ word. “Being comfortable with a degree of confrontation is key to being assertive and ensuring that you’re not taken advantage of,” says psychologist Honey Langcaster-James. So, let’s get started…
If you’re an… ostrich
“Avoiding confrontation altogether damages your self-esteem,” warns confidence coach Jo Painter. ” Confronting someone sends a positive message to yourself: my wants and needs are valid. It’s self-respect.”Start small
“Work at the edge of your comfort zone,” says Honey. It might be sending something back in a restaurant or saying no to a cold caller. “It’s about making gradual shifts in asserting yourself.”
Flip your thinking
Think confronting someone = upsetting them? Wrong. “Most people don’t realise that their behaviour is affecting you,” says Jo. “If you don’t give someone an opportunity to adjust their actions, you’re actually being unfair to them.”
Prepare your opening statement
“Confrontation isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about saying how you feel,” says Jo.”And for ‘ostriches’, that can be the most difficult part.” Keep it clear and concise, and write it down beforehand if you need to. “Begin with the facts: this is the situation or problem, and this is how I feel about it.” Three or four short sentences are enough.
If you’re a… folder
You start well but at the first hint of awkwardness, you crumble. “We panic that we’re appearing aggressive and become too conciliatory to compensate,” says Jo. In a study at Columbia University, volunteers were put in confrontational situations and people who considered themselves too assertive were described as not assertive enough by others.
“Starting sentences with, ‘I’m sorry, I just…’ undermines your message,” says Honey. Ditch the qualifiers too: you’re not “a little concerned”, just “concerned”.
Own your feelings
Don’t bring other people into it, such as “It’s not just me – I know Sarah feels the same”. “If you want respect, take responsibility,” says psychologist Emma Kenny. “Your feelings alone should be enough to provoke change.”
Reiterate your solution
“Have a clear idea of your ideal outcome,” says Emma. “If you’re vague, you’re easy to ignore.” Keep bringing the conversation back to your solution. Say, “I want to focus on what we do next…” or “As I said, there’s a way for both of us to be happy”.
If you’re an… exploder
For you, confrontation quickly turns into full-blown conflict. “If you get angry, you alienate the other person,” says Emma. “You discredit yourself and your message. It might feel cathartic but it won’t get the result you want.”
Use “I” statements
“I believe” or “I want” is more effective than “You always do this” or “You never do that”. “If you blame somebody, they immediately become defensive and, in turn, aggressive,” says Jo.
Stick to your point
“It’s tempting to fall into the ‘chronological arguing’ trap where you start bringing up past grievances to bolster your case,” says Emma. “But it always backfires and you lose sight of your goal.”
Riddled with regret half an hour after a blow-up? “That’s because the logical part at the front of your brain has caught up with the emotional part,” says Jo. “Create pauses in the conversation – by listening until someone finishes speaking and repeating what they’ve said back to them or just say, ‘Give me a second to think’.” They feel heard and you have time to let reason take over from emotion.