Get Out Of My Face!

When confrontation strikes, it’s never easy to handle. When someone thrusts their emotional response in your face, of course it feels personal and it’s no wonder you feel defensive. It hits you on a primal level and you feel it physically. This is tough enough but when you throw into the mix the dynamics, politics and histories around a work colleague, a family member or a friend, there is often a lot more at stake and many more complications to deal with along with the primal instinct.

People tend to play some classic games when it comes to confrontation – here is a look at the main four culprits that underlie most confrontations and how you can manage them in the heat of the moment.

Clash of Values – We all have core values that underlie how we conduct our lives. These are the things that we deem the most important things of all and can make us seethe when we feel someone has trodden on their importance in our world (think about the likes of Equality, Respect, Honesty and Loyalty). It’s worth remembering that we don’t all have the same values and even if we do, they often sit in a different order. For example, if Honesty is high on your list but lower in someone else’s, it can make you feel outraged that they lied to you and vice versa. However, consider that it tends not to be to spite you but more that they have a higher priority in that instance which adheres more to their own value set.

The best way to manage this sort of conflict is to walk away and manage the moment by saying something simple like, “I need a moment here. I will come back.” Then give yourself some space (loos are great escapes here).

Work out what the behaviour is and the effect it’s having on you and then communicate it back to the other as succinctly and in as level a tone as possible. For example “When you are dishonest about what happened this morning I don’t understand why. What is going on for you?” Then pause and let the other person respond. The most important thing here is to listen to what they say in return and then allow a conversation, rather than an argument, to unfold. Do not simply wait for your turn to speak or reiterate your point. The key thing is to move the issue forward.

Miscommunication – It’s a wonder we ever communicate anything when you look at what actually needs to happen in order for things to go from one person’s mind to another person’s active response. It’s no wonder that we often fall off the communication cycle without even realising. There are six key places where miscommunication can happen:

  1. between us thinking what we think and speaking out clearly what we think
  2. between us speaking out what we think and having the other person listen to us
  3. between the other person hearing us and actually understanding fully what is intended
  4. between the other person understanding and agreeing with us that we are on the same page, so to say
  5. between agreement and acting on the matter in hand in a relevant and appropriate way
  6. between acting on the matter in hand and it becoming something that is implemented long term or regularly.

These are all areas which need to be paid attention to, which means that when we speak out or do anything, we can’t take for granted that people are with us unless we check in with them verbally, watch what happens, and hold responsibility for the full communication – not just the part that’s about us.

This is one of the most common causes of work conflict. The best way to handle it is to go back over, bit by bit, however time-consuming it may seem, the six areas of where communication can fall away, and seeing where the disconnect happened so you can rectify it. This must be done in a calm tone, with objectivity and no blaming language such as ‘you’, ‘always’, ‘never’ and such like. If you think you sound like you are blaming, then you probably are. Stop and reframe it and use the communication components as reference points if it helps.

Assumptions – We all make these. Assumptions are a part of life. Sometimes we are accurate with our assumptions. But sometimes we aren’t and we run into trouble if we act on assumptions as if they are the fact of the matter, rather than checking if our imagination has run away with us.

We base our assumptions on a whole range of things that link to our own worlds – education, upbringing, personal experiences, values and so forth – meaning we can get it wrong if we aren’t careful.

Always ask questions, which neutralise arguments at the worst of times anyway, to check that you have hold of the right end of the stick. And, remember, leave blame out of the equation.

Old Patterns of Behaviour – Again, we all have these. Unless we become aware of our own patterns, then we are unable to change them, merely making the point that this is just the way we are. All behaviour is learnt and can therefore be unlearnt. By stopping and taking a moment, we can regain control of our less useful patterns of behaviour and we can also interrupt any unwanted patterns from the other. Pausing and creating headspace and time to think is always a productive way forward in a conflicting situation. You just have to make sure you are strict with yourself in holding the moment.

All in all, remember that most people do not enjoy conflict, despite what your knee-jerk reaction might tell you. So take a step back, take a deep breath and go back in as calmly as you can in order to move things forward.

Comments are closed.