Dealing with Confrontational Issues

How many people, including you, avoid confrontation? Why do people avoid addressing differences with others? There are a variety of reasons (really excuses). They may feel insecure or intimidated by people who confront them or openly disagree with them. It may make them uneasy to see others emotionally upset, crying, or raising their voice.

Even though it is uncomfortable, differences and confrontations are a part of business and life. Here are four communication practices that can help you approach confrontational situations and better resolve emotionally charged conflict.


Anger is not the enemy. It is the reaction to anger that causes problems. When someone is angry or upset, it just means they are unhappy with a situation. In their judgement, something is wrong and it needs to be addressed. The two common reactions to anger that shut down the communication are blowing up (fight) and clamming up (flight). When someone “vents” and yells and raises their voice, it shuts down the communication. No one listens to a hot head, and no one likes to be yelled at or criticized. The opposite dysfunctional response to anger is clamming up. When someone sulks, holds a grudge, or just shuts down, then the problem goes unresolved. Both blowing up and clamming up kill communication. The alternative to blowing up and clamming up is communicating directly and clearly, but with kindness, gentleness and in consideration of each other’s feelings.


Most people do not want an audience when discussing controversial issues that upset them. Go somewhere where you don’t have the distraction and concern of uninvolved parties.


There is no good reason to respond to an upset person in like kind. It takes two people to argue, and arguments don’t resolve problems but instead drive people further apart. You need to calm down and get in control of your emotions before addressing the problem. After gaining personal control, begin by thanking them for bringing the situation to your attention. You can’t effectively respond to what you don’t understand. Listening is one of the best ways to diffuse anger. Much anger and frustration stems from people feeling misunderstood, ignored, or not cared for. Begin by seeking to understand the issue from their perspective. Ask good open-ended questions and listen to get a complete understanding of the issue from their viewpoint, and then repeat that understanding back to them in your own words and ask them if you have a correct understanding of the issue. Continue asking, listening, and re-stating until you have clear understanding of their thinking. Then ask them to do the same, by listening to you and then restating what you have said in their own words until they understand your perspective.


Once you both clearly understand each other’s perspective, look for points of agreement before addressing the differences. That agreement will provide a basis to find solutions and resolutions where you differ. Often just listening and understanding each other will resolve the issue. Invite the other party to help you find the best solution. Look for win/win resolutions. Find out clearly what the other person wants and what would satisfy them. Also clearly state what you want, then work together to find a mutually satisfactory solution. There are always multiple solutions to a problem. Be curious and creative. Think outside the box. If necessary, engage an outside mediator that you both trust to facilitate the communication and create a resolution.

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