2. Offer an invitation to talk.
3. Practice no-blame talking and listening.
- There's no single surefire opener, Jeles says. "But a couple I've seen work well are 'I sense there's something you want to talk to me about. If now isn't the time, I'm ready whenever you are,' or 'I've got some suggestions that I think can really help you.'" People might feel suspicious at first, interpreting "I think I can help" as code for "I'm preparing to attack." Eventually, though, Jeles says, "they're grateful, because they're floundering."
- Present the thoughts you collected in the preparation stage, being careful not to blame or accuse. "I might say, 'I know I may not have all the information, but here's what I think is happening.' After that, you can ask, 'What do you think is happening?' And then you listen." You're not listening, Jeles points out, if you're preparing your next verbal volley—"reloading," she calls it. One time-honored way of keeping yourself from reloading is reflecting back to the other person: "So let me make sure I understand what you said...."
- If the confrontation is taking place at work, Jeles stresses, leave your emotions out of the discussion. Suggest solutions that focus on tasks and goals instead of the person's faults. "Get right to what I call www.com: Who does What by When Communication. That's 99 percent of the communication required in corporate America," says Jeles. "Focusing on productivity instead of blame—fixing the plan, not the person—shifts the mood from threatening to uplifting." Set a time for meeting again to check in with each other about how the new plan is working.
If the confrontation is taking place off the job—friend to friend, spouse to spouse, or parent to child—then you do need to express your emotions clearly, but calmly. "So you might say to a teenager, 'Last night when you didn't come home when you said you would, I felt disappointed and angry, but mostly I was afraid something bad had happened to you. Have you ever had that feeling?' Then ask what was going on with her." The focus should be on understanding each other's feelings and thought processes.
A common cause of conflict both at work and at home, according to Jeles, is not discussing a problem as soon as it comes up. "I don't leave it for a month, I don't leave it for a week, I don't let 15 things go by—I confront every issue one at a time, as it comes up, or as soon as I notice a pattern. Then I find out what the other person is thinking." And if the relationship is one fraught with conflict? "I tell all my clients, it doesn't matter what the history is, you've got to start new somewhere." Begin using carefrontation steps every time the smallest thing comes up, Jeles says. "That creates very different results than waiting until you're just about ready to pop your balloon."
Once you redefine confrontation and learn to do it better, Jeles promises, you'll no longer be tortured by the rule-flouting teen, the shirking colleague, the belittling boss, the secret-spilling friend, or the Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Doormat. The more you practice, she says, the easier it gets to give good carefrontation, and to receive it.
Your Guide to Confrontation