Navigating Difficult Conversations (pt.2): The Principles of Powerful Confrontations


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Full transcript

This video is an excerpt from my upcoming course Building rapport, Going beyond small talk with advanced communication skills. If you’re interested in the course check out the link above.

Now, while I will give you some practical techniques, what’s really more important are the kind of principles to keep in mind, because confrontations will often be a free flow conversation that doesn’t follow the rules, that’s okay. But if you keep certain principles in mind, you’ll have the best possible confrontation that’s available with this particular person.

Make sure that they’re prepared for it. The worst possible reaction you’ll get from somebody, anybody really, is when you shock them. If somebody doesn’t see it coming, if they feel like they’ve been hit by a bus, you’re going to get the worst possible emotional reaction from them. If you want the best possible, make sure they know it’s coming. They’re prepared for it. They’re not blindsided. It can be as simple as saying, look, there’s something uncomfortable I need to talk to you about, do you have a minute? Rather than just saying, you did this! and coming out of nowhere.

Next, keep it one to one. Praise in public, and condemn in private. So if you’re going to confront someone, if it’s going to be a negative conversation, in general, keep it a private conversation, wait until you’ve got time alone, organize a meeting with the two of you by yourselves, never do the extra added pressure of confronting them in front of other people, putting all that shame and that pressure on them, and on yourself as well.

Know that you will not be able to prevent bad reactions from happening, whatever that means to you. You cannot have a confrontation in some perfect way that never goes wrong and never gets a conflict going. What I’m going to teach you in this video is a way of confrontation that gets the best possible reaction from people in general. But some people, their best possible reaction is still a pretty terrible one. And rather than hoping that won’t happen, you need to prepare yourself for dealing with it when it does happen. And that way, when it doesn’t happen, you’ll just be pleasantly surprised.

Another principle is you’ve got to keep it to a single topic. Make sure that whatever it is you’re bringing up is very, very specific, very single minded, you’re not going to bring up anything else, you’re not going to allow the conversation to go anywhere else, you’re just going to talk about this one thing and this one thing only. Anything else that comes up gets parked for another time, if it’s important, or just ignored if it’s not.

Make sure you provide examples and evidence. Do not ever make claims about another person’s behavior or their state of mind or anything like that unless you can prove it. Right? No unfair accusations, no assumptions, nothing that you can’t show behavioral evidence for, or results and outcomes that show evidence. But also don’t pile it on once you’ve given enough evidence to make your point, that will do, you don’t need to kick them to death with this thing. But in general, you’re avoiding labeling, like You are this, You’re a liar, You’re a bad person, You’re unreasonable, You’re corrupt, avoid all that labeling, and avoid assumptions like You must have wanted to do this, and You were thinking that… stuff that you don’t know. And avoid accusations that don’t have strong factual basis, right, you’re just sticking to the facts. This is what you did. This is what ended up happening because of what you did. And that’s what we’re going to talk about. Not what they thought or felt, not what they believe. Not stuff that may have happened when you weren’t watching, just the stuff you know. And that’s it. That’s probably the most important principle.

You’re not trying to win. A good confrontation isn’t one where they end up convinced and apologizing to you and agreeing with you or anything like that. A good confrontation is where you stand up for what you know is true. Also being flexible to having your mind changed by better evidence. Generally, this is about bravery and honesty. This is not about dominance of another person. Even if other people are watching and it looks like you lost. That you know you’re honest, and you know you are brave, that’s a win. Doesn’t matter what other people think. It doesn’t matter if this other person changes their behavior or not. I can’t emphasize that enough. This is not about changing the other person. This is about inviting them to consider a more respectful type of behavior. That’s all. They don’t want to accept that invitation that’s fine, but there may be consequences like you’re not their friend anymore. You don’t want to work with them anymore. But they don’t actually have to change. This isn’t a win lose situation. This is a value situation.

Take your time, but be concise, which sounds a little contradictory. What I’m saying is slow down. Take as long as needed to get through to the end of this confrontation. And at the same time, use the least amount of words necessary to make your point. Don’t try to overdo it. People only overshare and repeat themselves and add too much detail when they’re trying to convince the other person. Let them ask for more information if you haven’t been clear enough, right, keep it to single statements, single sentences, single pieces of evidence. Give plenty of space for the back and forth to happen. You don’t need to sound like a Court lawyer at the end of the case making the final plea to the jury and trying to convince them, you just state what you know is true and you let them react to it. At the same time, this conversation might go longer than you wanted it to, it might go back and forth more than you wanted it to. Stay in there for as long as it takes. And in particularly difficult conversations with a really adversarial opponent, time is a factor: if you can hang out longer than they can, they usually give up.

Try to be non judgmental by showing your own weaknesses, your vulnerabilities, even your naivety, You can show, hey, I’m not sure about this, or I don’t have evidence for that. You can say, look, I do this stuff, too, and I haven’t been a complete saint, and I’ve got my 50% of this that I need to take responsibility for. That kind of humility. And frankly, accuracy really does a lot to bring down the temperature of the conversation. If it comes across as like, you’re the bad person, I’m the good person, you’re going to have a big conflict. But if it comes more across as like, we’re both human and we both make mistakes, and these are the mistakes I noticed you make, and I made these ones, and we’re both trying to work together better, it’s far less likely to end in a conflict.

Rather than suppressing emotion, like anxiety, or anger or anything else that comes up, try to process it and express it. You’re allowed to say things like I’m feeling quite anxious telling you this or what you just said provoked a lot of anger in me. You can say these things, but you’re not lashing out, you’re just talking about the emotion. You don’t say something like, you always make me angry. You say, I’m feeling a lot of anger right now, just give me a second to breathe. It’s always processing it, you’re not trying to pretend that you’re fine – you know, that thing that a lot of people do, where they put on a calm face and they’re dying inside. You can show that you’re struggling, that’s fine. It actually again does a lot to bring down the temperature of the conversation. You’re saying, Look, I’m human too. This is also difficult for me, this is also uncomfortable for me.

At the same time, the more emotional you notice yourself or the other person becoming, the slower the conversation needs to go. Right? You can’t rush through points when one or both of you is in a conflict. Sometimes you even need to stop the points that you’re making until people calm down a little bit more, which could include yourself. So the more emotional it is, the more you slow it down. The more rational and sort of everyone getting along it feels, then the quicker you can go.

Make sure if this is the kind of confrontation where you’re actually asking them to change their behavior, be very, very clear about what you want that change to be. Don’t just tell them what you don’t want. Tell them what you do want. In fact, you don’t even need to tell them what you don’t want. You’ve already confronted them on that. Just tell them what you’d rather have happen, what kind of behavior you would prefer to see, and make it so there’s absolutely no guesswork on their side. You can’t just say to your partner, You forgot to do the dishes again. There’s really no clear guidance in that information. But if you say, look, I prefer it if you did the dishes each time after you eat so that the kitchen always looks clean, then it’s very clear what you want. And if they want to respect you, you’ve given them an easy kind of instruction manual for doing so. Never leave people guessing, that’s on you. If you do that, that’s not their fault if they can’t figure it out.

Something that makes this part easier is to understand the first reaction doesn’t count. Most of the time when you confront someone, if they’re not really good with confrontations and a sort of healthy, confident person all the time, their first reaction is going to be more extreme, more emotional, more negative, and more unreasonable, than is kind of representative of them as a person. So give them 24 or 48 hours to breathe after this, think it through, calm down a little bit. And then you talk to them again, you’ll see what their real reaction is. So no matter how much they blow up the first time, or even if they’re really positive the first time, don’t take it too seriously, because their real reaction is going to come later when they’ve processed it. So quite often somebody who’s like, yeah, no, that’s no problem at all, ends up disrespecting you again, that’s the real reaction. That positive thing was a distraction or manipulation. But more likely will be the other way around. They have this big blow up, and you think, man, they don’t agree with me at all. They hate me. They don’t love me anymore, whatever it is. And then a day later, sort of grumbling and mumbling, they’re like, You’re right. I’ll give it a go. You know, that’s what happens kind of most of the time, and that second reaction is the one you judge them on. Not that first one.

And lastly, every time we have a confrontation, especially if this is a difficult topic for you, take down a piece of paper after it’s all done and write down notes about what happened. Okay. How it went? What do you think you did well? What you could work on next time? How did you interpret their reaction? What you’re going to do with their reaction? What that tells you about the level of respect and love they have for you? How fair you think you might have been? How reliable the evidence used was? and so on, and review yourself and judge yourself harshly but fairly so that you get better and better at this, because it’s confrontations that will teach you how to do confrontations, there’s nothing I can say that will be a better teacher than your real life experiences with real life people.

Thanks for watching. If you want to master communication and confrontation skills and be able to stand up for yourself powerfully, get in touch And we’ll talk about coaching

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