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Slaying Conflict with Positive Confrontation Author: Radonda Rowton, MAC, LPC


“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process, he does not become a monster.” -Friedrich Nietzsche


So, how are you with confrontation? If you are an Enneagram 8, you have probably had more experience at confronting than the rest of the Enneagram numbers. However, the question becomes “do you confront and hold people accountable in a healthy way, or do you leave a carnage of devastated egos as you walk out of the room?” How is your self-awareness? It’s important to know, because roaring like a lion or flashing a set of brass knuckles are more likely to result in serious anxiety than accountability.


What if I told you that confrontation doesn’t necessarily have to lead to conflict, nor does conflict have to lead to negative confrontation? The word “confrontation” has gotten a bad rap because the actual definition of confrontation merely means to communicate face to face. I can hear you saying, “That has not been my understanding of confrontation.” I hear you, and I agree. Most of us have seen confrontation play out with screaming and hurtful words. Confrontation is most likely considered one of the weakest life skills we possess because it is frequently mistaken for the tantrums of an emotional family member or an unskilled manager who have reached the end of their ropes and end up blowing up at those around them.


In preparing for a positive confrontation, it is important to know that a structured, positive approach can decrease conflict and increase accountability. How do we do that? I believe it’s done by connecting the dots between respecting the people we are talking to and figuring out what is needed for the good of everyone involved. In other words, people need to feel that you are for them and not against them.


Also, positive confrontation is most effective when the expectations are stated clearly, and then are followed up by more conversation if needed, for the sake of understanding.


It is possible to set the stage for a successful confrontative conversation by considering the following steps:


In person, in private. It is important, if possible, that you meet with the person in a one-on-one setting. Remember to extend the same courtesy that you would like if the situation were reversed.


Positive non-verbals. Be aware that your facial expression, tone of voice and mannerisms are communicators to the person you are talking to. Making eye contact also shows people that we are focused, engaged and respectful.


Leave your emotional baggage out of it. Staying calm in a confrontational conversation is imperative. It does not benefit anyone to bring up everything the person has ever done that has been disappointing or upsetting to you. That is a sure way to become overly emotional and not reaching your goal of decreasing conflict.


Listen to understand. If we are formulating our response while someone is talking instead of being present, we are not listening to understand. Doing this usually ends up in immediate frustration for them and eventual frustration for you.


Use ‘I’ messages. Own your thoughts, feelings, and actions. To do that, using “I” statements are important. It will help the person understand that this is what you need to happen, which is more effective than over-generalizations.


Focus on desirable behaviors. Focus on explaining how you want the situation to be handled rather than how bad the situation has been handled. Give examples help so the person knows exactly what you are asking for.


Focus on positive consequences and results. People generally want to believe that if they make a positive change because they truly understand the necessity of that change, then something will improve about the situation and things will be better for everyone.


What we do know is that not dealing with issues or dealing with them poorly or letting things go on too long, basically threatens trust and will complicate the situation, causing everyone to suffer. Confronting well, especially respectfully, directly, and specifically about what you need is what differentiates a successful conflict resolution from a negative conflict resolution.


This is an issue of connection. People will respond to a non-threatening atmosphere in a far more positive way than they will a situation that is negative and humanly disrespectful. If this is an ongoing problem, then we may need to set boundaries or make a more permanent decision. Either way, the most important way to confront positively is to say, “You matter, your opinion matters, and having a voice is important. We have an opportunity to get everything out on the table." This can lead to the start of a positive conversation that can be life changing for everyone involved.


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