#046 – Constructive Confrontation (Assertiveness Pt 17) [Podcast]

How good are you at confronting someone? Do you, like most people, prefer to avoid confrontations? It turns out that the majority of people are pretty bad at confrontations and opt to dodge them whenever possible. The prospect stresses them out, and they’re even more anxious in the encounter. It’s not uncommon for people who dislike confrontation to feel their heart racing during these episodes.

Constructive Confrontation

Constructive Confrontation

People can get very creative when it comes to protecting their self-image – but when doing so gets in the way of your agenda, you have to confront them about it. At the same time, confrontation can prove deleterious. Tensions may rise and your adversary’s psychological defenses may come up. As the objective is to move things forward productively, what’s essential is not confrontation per se, but constructive confrontation.

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“Constructive Confrontation” Show Notes

We respond to conflicts by confronting, accommodating, or avoiding. Both accommodation and avoidance are passive, Confrontation can be aggressive and competitive, or assertive and collaborative. The latter approach is generally the most constructive.

What is Confrontation?
A confrontation is the direct expression of one’s view (thoughts and feelings) of the conflict situation and an invitation for the other party to express her or his views of the conflict.

Confrontations involve:

  • Describing behavior and one’s reactions to that behavior.
  • Clarifying and exploring issues in the conflict (substantive, relational, procedural).
  • The nature and strength of the parties’ interests, needs, and concerns.
  • Disclosure of relevant feelings.

To Confront or Not Confront?

  • Generally the decision to confront is based on the following factors:
  • The nature of the relationship. The greater the relationship’s importance, the more meaningful the confrontation.
  • The nature of the issues. The more significant the issues, the greater the potential benefit from confrontation.
  • The ability of the other party to act on the confrontation. If the other party’s anxiety level is high or motivation/ability to change is low, confrontation will likely fail.

Confrontation Guidelines

  • Do not “hit and run.” Confront when there is sufficient time to share views about the conflict and schedule a conflict management session.
  • Communicate openly and directly your perceptions of, and feelings about, the issues in the conflict. Try to do so in minimally threatening ways. Focus your concerns on the issues and the other party’s behavior, not on the other party’s character or personality.
  • Comprehend as completely as possible the other person’s views of, and feelings about, the conflict.
  • Value disagreement over the issues and the opportunity to work through that disagreement. Disagreement should be communicated in a manner consistent with acceptance of the other person.
  • Do not demand change. You may request and negotiate changes in behavior but do not demand them. Demanding changes constructive confrontation into forcing.
  • Invite the other person to confront you about your behavior. Reciprocal confrontations can balance power in the situation and lead to higher quality conflict management efforts.
  • Don’t preach to or interpret for the other person. Share your interpretations while inviting a collaborative approach to improving the situation.

Confrontation Skills

  • A confrontation about actions should be specific and timely. It should be conducted in a way that helps the other party examine the consequences of her/his behavior rather than causing her/him to defend her/his actions. Communicate:
  • Your observation of the other person’s behavior (description).
  • Your reaction to that behavior.
  • Your interpretation of what that behavior means.
  • Your desire to increase your understanding of the person’s behavior.
  • Your concerns about that behavior and its possible consequences.

More precisely, these steps involve using a number of “communication competence skills”, particularly:

  • Personal statements or “I” messages. “I am concerned about”, “I am confused by”, “My worry is”, “I am frustrated by” are all personal statements.
  • Relationship statements. These are “I” messages about some aspect of the relationship. “I appreciate your consulting with me on . . .” is a relationship statement.
  • Behavior descriptions. These are statements describing observed actions.
  • Direct description of your feelings. Feelings descriptions are personal statements of feelings focused on yourself, rather than vague expressions of feeling.
  • Understanding and interpreting. Use questions for clarifying and paraphrasing to check understanding before indicating how you are interpreting and reacting to the behavior.
  • Perception checks. Communicate what you perceive the other person to be feeling or thinking.
  • Provide and invite concrete feedback.

“Constructive Confrontation” Episode Resources

Vanessa article on Email Priming with Positive Language

Creative Live course on The Power of Body Language

Vanessa’s ScienceOfPeople Website and Course Offerings

Resources on Assertiveness:


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