By Ellen G. Goldman
I was driving back to my office after what should have been a relaxing lunch break with a good friend. Instead of feeling rejuvenated, and ready to get back to work, I was fuming. Frustrated, angry and disappointed.
We had finally managed to get a date on the calendar that worked for both of us, and I had been looking forward to an uninterrupted hour of catching up with each other. However, the interruptions were non-stop. Several times, her cell phone rang, and I sat patiently waiting for her to hang up. Well, not so patiently on the inside, but appearing patient outwardly. Then there were the two or three times she needed to respond to a text that came in from one of her friends or kids.
Despite her politely saying, “Excuse me for a minute” before picking up the phone, or “sorry about that” after texting, I felt my resentment rising as the hour went on. In the car, I found myself playing out a conversation in my head in which I told her how rude she was being, and how upset I felt. As a matter of fact, that conversation played on and on in my mind all afternoon.
When I was lying in bed that night, rather than drifting off into a peaceful sleep, the conversation played again, this time with added vigor. I was ruminating, and I couldn’t seem to stop. It was then I knew that I would need to confront my friend and express my feelings.
The thought of doing that made me a bit queasy. Now, I am not one to avoid confrontation at all costs. As a matter of fact, I’m very good at conversations that lead to resolved conflicts, and work with a lot of my clients on how to do so. But this was a really dear friend, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to harm our friendship. I certainly wouldn’t want her to feel hurt or embarrassed.
But I knew that if I didn’t confront this issue (and it wasn’t the first time it had happened), it would hurt our friendship. It would eat away at me, and make me doubt whether she valued the relationship as much as I did. Eventually it would put a wedge between us that would get larger over time.
So, I took some deep breaths, calmed myself down, and reviewed all I knew about having an effective confrontational conversation. In my mind I played a new conversation, which I did have with her a few days later.
I explained how much our friendship means to me, how much I value our limited alone time, and how interruptions distract me from what I’m trying to share. We talked it over, she apologized and we came up with a new rule. Finding it impossible to ignore a call from a family member, we agreed on a standard response. “Is everything alright? I’m having lunch with Ellen, and unless it’s an emergency, I’ll call (text) you later.” All other incoming messages would be ignored. The same rule would apply to me.
Lunch with that same friend is on my calendar for next week and I am very much looking forward to it. Although I might need to remind her of our new rules (after all, habits are hard to break), I know our time together will be so much more satisfying.
So, if you find yourself ruminating over a situation that could be resolved with a conversation, but are afraid to have one, here are some Tips To An Effective Confrontation.
1. Define what you want the outcome to be.
Do you want to just get this off your chest, knowing you’ll feel better afterwards, or are you looking for a specific outcome? Hoping for an apology or an explanation is fine as long as you let the other know. If you express yourself effectively, you might receive that without having to ask.
2. Prepare what you want to say beforehand. might even want to write it down and rehearse. Be concise and stick to the facts and the specific incidence. Don’t exaggerate with words such as “always” and “never.”
3. Stay calm and watch your body language.
Take a few deep breaths before you begin speaking, and relax the muscles in your body. Even if your words are effective, facial expression and body language can convey a different message.
4. Affirm the value of the other person and the importance of your relationship.
Be respectful of their personal challenges, feelings and opinions. It’s OK to agree to disagree. Take responsibility for any part in the situation you might have contributed to, and listen without interruption when the other is speaking. Be open to the idea that they see the incident through different glasses than yours.
5. Use “I’ rather than “you”.
Talk about what you felt or needed, not about what the other did. Stating, “I felt hurt and unappreciated when you failed to mention my contribution to the project.” will get you much farther than, “You never appreciate anything I do.” You sentences put others on the defensive.
6. Avoid being critical, judgmental, sarcastic or demeaning. Your concern should be centered on the incident or behavior, not personality.
7. Work towards a “win-win” situation.
If this is a relationship that is important and you care about, it’s well worth working towards solutions you can both agree on.
Confrontation is hard, and having an effective confrontation is even harder. However, this vital interpersonal skill can be learned. The ability to confront others effectively will improve the quality of your life and relationships.