You Want Me to Do What? Yes! Learn the Art of Constructive Confrontation

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Like it or not, conflict is part of life, so learn how to hand confrontation constructively. By Jane S. Goldner, Ph.D (Author, Women Driven to Success: You Can Have It YOUR All)

An effective guiding principle for succeeding in business is to be firm but fair. We entrepreneurial women are good at fair but not so good at firm.

These are some of the reasons I have heard from women when asked, “Why don’t you like to confront others when you disagree?”

“It seems so negative and argumentative.” “The other person won’t like me if I disagree.” “It will hurt the relationship.” “They won’t do business with me and I need them.”

Many of these feelings about conflict come from viewing it as a “knock-down-and-drag-out" argument or from back in time when your mother told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say it at all.”

What if you took her other piece of advice which was, “It is not what you say, it is how you say it”?

Conflict is Simply Inevitable

Conflict is an inevitable part of everyday life because people have different needs, objectives, and values. Individuals may perceive motives, actions, and situations differently (believing there is a hidden agenda, for example) and expect outcomes that are outside your expectations. The bottom line is that all of the above points to differences. Using a constructive confrontation approach is a healthy way to address these differences and, in fact, can lead to better relationships and greater productivity.

Guiding Principles For a Successful Constructive Confrontation

  • Be sure there is a real problem and that you’re not just in a bad mood.
  • Identify the real issue or opportunity, not just the symptoms or personalities of those involved.
  • Work toward a mutually agreeable solution, not just toward winning.
  • Remember that it’s all right to disagree and that the other person is not bad if he or she disagrees with you.
  • Keep some perspective. Relationships are not necessarily destroyed through confrontation; they can be enhanced by working toward a mutually satisfactory solution.

The best solution may be a workable compromise where neither person gets everything that they want, but enough for each to move forward on the agreement.

Using Language That Helps, Not Hinders 

Firstly, understand the issue your tackling. Have specific examples. Come to the point quickly and  be willing to own part of the problem.

The language you use can make a huge difference to your discussion, so use helpful phrases:

  •  “I’m going to disagree with you and let me tell you why.”
  • “I think you could look at it another way.”
  • “I’d like to better understand it from your point of view.”
  • “Something that worries me about that is…”

Be focused and direct, but not aggressive

  • Get rid of the qualifying statements (i.e. “sort of,” “this might not be the best idea but…”)
  • Make your statement sound like a statement, not a question (i.e. don’t end your sentence with, “Okay?”)
  • Establish a common goal and stay focused on it.
  • Avoid attacking the person. Talk about behavior, not personality. (It takes years of therapy to change someone’s personality!)
  • Avoid the temptation to use words like “always” or “never.”
  • Make “I” statements. For example: “I feel that when I give you feedback, you get defensive and shut me down.” (Making you statements often puts the other person on the defensive.)

 Show Your Commitment to the Other Person

  • “Listen” to the other person with your ears…and your eyes.
  • Be specific about what you want to happen. Look for a win-win solution. Offer your help.
  • Let the other person know the consequences of continuing the current behavior.
  • Check for mutual understanding by asking the other person to summarize.

Remember… don’t ignore something that bothers you. Work on resolving the issue before the situation becomes intolerable or your emotions get out of control. Be willing to honestly work with the other person to solve the problem.

Want to find out about your preferred conflict style? Check out The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

Read more in Jane's book, Women Driven to Success: You Can Have It YOUR All

Do you avoid confrontation to your own detriment?


About the guest blogger: Jane S. Goldner, Ph.D. is a speaker, author, leadership & role integration coach and consultant. She brings 30 years of internal and external corporate experience as well as advanced degrees in counseling and human resource development to coach and counsel high-potential and women leaders. Jane’s first book, Driven to Success: A 10-Point Checkup for Achieving High Performance in Business, is a guide for business leaders to get everyone focused on achieving corporate objectives. Her new books, Women Driven to Success: You Can Have It YOUR All and her chapter in Roadmap to Success with Deepak Chopra & Ken Blanchard, provide women the understanding of how to integrate multiple roles without sacrificing their health, success, or peace of mind so they can lead with purpose, power and power.