Fightin’ Words! 6 Things to Avoid During Confrontation
Mark Twain’s observation is true: “The difference between the right word, and almost the right word is like the difference between ‘lightning’ and ‘lightning bug’.”
When you must confront someone, there are certain phrases that stop the communication process in its tracks and shouldn’t be used. Simply avoiding these phrases can go a long way toward making confrontation less risky.
Phrases to never use, and why…
“You never,” or “You always.”
These are called “absolute generalizations” and 99% of the time they are not true. Is it true that this person ALWAYS contradicts you? Is it really true that they are NEVER on time with the assignment? These phrases virtually guarantee that they will become defensive because they will instantly counter with exceptions to your absolute generalization. The moment these words leave your lips the real issue you were attempting to introduce has taken a secondary role to the issue of just how often it actually happens. Don’t do this at work, and don’t do it at home….unless you LIKE eating alone.
If someone says it to you, say, “It may seem that way to you because I often do/don’t. But is that the real issue and can we talk about that?”
(From across the room)…”Come over here.” “Come to my office.” “I need to talk to you.”
When you need to confront someone about their behavior or attitude, don’t make this demand, or gesture for them to come to you. This is a command. It is vaguely threatening. It implies a Parent/Child relationship. This is a subtle assertion of power, and creates defensiveness before the first words leave your lips.
Instead, you go to them. Get in their one-on-one space (without violating their personal space) and ask, “May I speak with you for a moment?” This starts the interaction with an expression of respect and establishes your approach as a request and not a command. This is far more likely to result in the outcome you desire, and more quickly.
“I’m not going to say this again.”
Really? Chances are…you will say it again. These words paint you into a corner. When the issue comes up again, then your only options are to: #1. Say it again, which is what you said you would NOT do. This is a credibility problem for you. Or, #2. Take some sort of action, which is implied by the phrase. In fact, it may be premature to take action, or it may seem radical or unreasonable. Or, #3. Don’t say it again, and don’t take any action, either. This is a terrible credibility problem for you.
Better to meet the issue with something like this: “It is very important that you understand what I am about to say, so listen very carefully.” When you are finished, ask for feedback or ask them to paraphrase what you said back to you in their own words.
“Because those are the rules.”
There is no better way to say to somebody, “I don’t care about you or your problems.” The unmistakable implication in these words is, “This discussion is over.”
If someone says this to you, don’t fire back, “Well, that’s a STUPID rule!” Try, “Could you please take a moment to help me understand why this rule was created?” In the process of explaining the reason for the rule, they may talk themselves into seeing that this particular situation may be somehow exceptional, or on the fringe of the circumstances in which the rule was meant to be applied.
“It’s none of your business,” or “It doesn’t concern you.”
This is demeaning. It implies that the other person can’t be trusted with the information, or that perhaps there really isn’t a good reason behind your request.
Better to explain how the ethics of the situation and respect for people’s privacy prevents you from giving the information they are requesting. It can sometimes help to interject, “And I would do the same for you if the tables were turned,” or something similar as the situation calls for it.
“You wouldn’t understand.”
In the course of the confrontation you may be asked for more information. The reasoning behind your request may be complicated or lengthy. But to tell them they wouldn’t understand just so you can avoid more explanation impugns their intelligence. Much better to prepare them for a complicated explanation by putting the burden of possible misunderstanding on yourself; “This may be difficult to explain perfectly, but I’ll try.”
Conflict can happen anywhere there are two or more people. It’s a fact of life. Learning to avoid the bombshells above can go a long way toward keeping confrontation from devolving into conflict.
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