Planning For a Confrontation

If you have been following this blog, you know by now that if you are having an issue with someone that is causing you stress, anger and frustration, before things get out of control (your anger becomes rage) you must speak to that person.  You want to see if the two of you can come to some agreement which will resolve your hostility.

Confronting another person takes some skillful planning. Like the song says, “You can’t always get what you want” but if you plan a strategy, it is much more likely that you still get most of what you want.

Conflict is complicated because it is actually four problems all rolled into one:

●the issue itself;

●deciding who owns the issue;

●to whom you should address the issue;

●what you should specifically say in addressing the issue.

For example, let’s say you sit next to a person at work who hums or sings softly while working.  It is always the same tune and it drives you nuts.  It is a distraction which causes you to lose your train of thought and makes it impossible to concentrate.  Now, exactly,  whose problem it this?  Even though you would like to separate your co-worker’s head from her neck, this is not her problem.  It is yours.  She is happily working along completely oblivious to your mental anguish.  Therefore, you have to ask her to help you solve your problem.  In other words, you own the problem and are therefore responsible for resolving it.

●buy some ear plugs and say nothing

●ask her directly to stop humming and explain why

●request that your work location be moved away from hers

Let’s look at another situation. Suppose you are in an expensive “fine dining” restaurant with your significant other and a few friends having dinner.  You ordered roast beef rare and it comes to the table well-done.  You are furious because you were very clear when you gave your order to the server.  Your significant other whispers, “Now don’t make a scene and embarrass us.”  However, this is your stomach into which this piece of shoe leather will go.

Obviously, you need to address the server about the issue.  In this case, the server owns the problem and must be told to correct it.

Your significant other has somehow taken ownership of the issue and has attempted to guilt-trip you into silence.  He or she is not involved here.  This is between you and the server.  You must whisper back to your significant other, “I regret that my speaking up will embarrass you.  However, I do not intend to stress my stomach by attempting to eat this elephant hide.”

What is happening here is that your companion is attempting to change the problem from overcooked food into some social embarrassment issue around the concept of what will the other people will think if you speak up.  Your response should be, “Who cares what they think.  This is my stomach we are talking about.”

Let’s look at one last example – one of my favorites.  You have purchased an expensive piece of equipment which spewed out sparks and smoke when you plugged it in at home.  You go to return it and ask for your money back.  The store clerk tells you, “Your problem is not with us, it is with the manufacturer.  Contact them.”

Here we have an example where the store owns the problem and they are attempting to shove it back onto you.  You have to quickly remember that it is the store that has your money and say, “You contact the manufacturer. I want my money back.”

The next thing you want to look at is the speaking format or communication method you will use to address the issue.  There are actually five communication methods to choose from when addressing a conflict issue:

●You can take a win/lose stance, hoping you will be the winner.

●You can work at compromising your differences.

●You can collaborate with the other person to find a solution acceptable to both of you.

●You can acquiesce to the other person’s view of things.

●You can avoid the situation altogether by denying it even exists or by running away from the resolution process.

Although there are five different communication methods available for resolving conflicts, most people will choose the same one or two methods every time. Rarely will a person utilize all five. In general, the selection of methods is a combination of habit, personal reference, comfort level and personality.

The unconscious limiting of methods creates two problems. First of all, if you always use the same method for every conflict situation, you become predictable. Your opponents will always know exactly what you are likely to do. Secondly, if you depend on habit, personal preference, comfort level and personality as a strategy for addressing a conflict, you have denied yourself serious thought regarding which of the five methods might work best for you in a particular situation. Therefore, if you intend to become proficient at resolving conflict, you must be able to utilize all five methods.  This is because some methods work well in some situations and are not very effective in others.

What follows is a brief explanation of each of the five methods and some information about the situations in which each method is especially effective.

The win/lose method        

Before using this method, it would be prudent to consider whether you will ever again need the help and cooperation of the others involved. At work and at home, a conflict may simply be a brief event in a long life of many interactions. A competing approach often creates a desire for reprisal in the loser.  However, if you feel you are being taken advantage of or are being put in a situation of great physical or mental danger, this is the format to use.

The collaborating method

With this method, you attempt to satisfy both your own needs and the needs of the other person. The underlying desire is to find a solution that satisfies both parties so that, in the end, both feel like winners. The collaborating method is a useful strategy in cases where both sets of concerns are too important to be compromised.  It is also useful in situations where people need a consensual decision or a strong commitment to insure that the agreed-upon outcome will work. The collaborating approach forces the parties to dig into an issue and identify or uncover all underlying factors. Negotiation attempts in foreign affairs, such as the peace efforts regarding theMiddle Eastturmoil, are always done using the collaborating method.  This format is very time-consuming.  Often we are not in a situation that requires an excavation of problems but rather just a little weed-pulling.


The compromising method is both very direct and cooperative. The underlying desire is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution what will partially satisfy both parties. It is a temporary solution usually arrived at by each party giving up something he/she wants in order to arrive at a middle ground. Compromising   is about splitting the difference in order to move on.  It is a great method to use when the parties involved have equal power, as in a marriage, and both people are strongly committed to mutually exclusive goals.  With most problems in daily life, this is the most useful method.  However, if you intend to use this method, think about where you are willing to give a little and where you will stand firm before using this format

The avoiding method is both antisocial and uncooperative. The underlying desire is to avoid pursuing one’s own concerns or the concerns of the other party. In fact, this is a strategy of not addressing the conflict at all – of diplomatically side-stepping the issues. The avoiding method is useful when the conflict is trivial or of minor importance.  Avoiding is a practical method in situations where people are emotional and need time to cool down before productive discussions can take place. Sometimes a person may just be having a bad day. You use an avoiding method today and the next day the person tells you, “I don’t know what got into me yesterday. I apologize if I said anything that upset you.”

Avoiding is an essential tactic when the gathering additional information is critical to a good decision. A parent may say to a child, “Let me look into it.  When I have more information, we can talk about this again.”  Finally, the avoiding method is a good choice when you perceive that you have no chance of satisfying your own concerns because of your lack of organizational power or the situation would be impossible to change no matter what happened. In other words,  he who runs away lives to fight another day.


The accommodating method is unassertive and cooperative. The underlying desire is to neglect your own concerns while fully satisfying the concerns of the other person. With this method there is an element of self-sacrifice and selfless generosity; giving into another person even though you would prefer not to do so. Often it is used as a good-will gesture to insure a continuing cooperative relationship. Sometimes people use it to prove they are reasonable. Accommodating is an effective method when the issue in question is very important to one person but of trivial concern to the other. Often the accommodating method is used to build up credits which can be cashed in later on issues of greater importance. When this is going on, you will hear such remarks as, “Ok, I’ll support you on this one, but you owe me.”

Accommodating is a great tool to use when, in the midst of a conflict, you realize you are wrong. Instead of saying, “Sorry; I guess I was wrong”, you might say,   “Well, Sarah, if it’s that important to you, we’ll do it your way.”  Sometimes in a conflict, a person realizes that continued confrontation will only hurt their cause perhaps because he or she is outmatched or is losing badly. At such times an accommodating method is a graceful way of bowing out. Finally the accommodating method is useful when you want someone to learn from their own mistakes. Parents make use of this one when they say to a child, “All right!  Do what you want!  You’ll learn the hard way!”

Of the five, you probably have a favorite which you use most of the time and one other which you use as a back-up method when your favorite isn’t producing results. To be truly effective at resolving conflict, however, you must be able to use all five methods. As in everything else, including clothing, one size does not fit all.

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