When I hung up the phone after 30 minutes of consoling an angry customer, I knew I had yet another difficult conversation ahead of me. My business partner at the time had a horrible disposition when it came to dealing with people. Because people flowed steadily through the doors of our retail space, this was obviously a detriment to our business. This incident was the final straw. I decided we had to break up.
Although I knew without a doubt that I'd made the right decision, I was filled with discomfort and anxiety. I took a day to balance my emotions and formulate my approach to the conflict. It was then, some 10 years ago, that I drafted these 10 Rules for Productive Confrontation, and they’ve been an invaluable resource for me, and my clients, ever since.
1. Decide exactly what you want.
Anger will muddle the truth, so allow time to let some of the emotion settle and think about what you really want. Begin at the end. When this conversation is over, what change, commitment, or outcome do you desire? Also determine what you're willing to give to make it happen.
2. Don't assume confrontation.
This week, one of my clients was planning for what she felt would be a difficult conversation. During our coaching session, she said, "She’s going to be so angry, and I just know we're going to get into a big fight over this." Well, that may or may not be true, but going into a conversation with that expectation will only invite confrontation. Oftentimes, the other person wants exactly what you want, even if he or she hasn't given it much thought. Do your best to make this an all-around win by going in with a positive attitude.
3. Choose your time wisely.
When your emotions peak, you may be tempted to act immediately. Though anger and other negative feelings may provide the fuel needed to initiate a difficult conversation, bad timing can prevent its effectiveness and a proper conclusion.
Choose a time and place that will allow privacy. Ask the other person to meet you on neutral turf for your meeting, and do all that you can to prevent interruptions, including turning off the cell phones.
4. Stick to the undeniable facts.
Don't embellish things or operate on hearsay. Stick to things that you know, firsthand, are true.
My angry customer told me about the things that my partner had said to her, but because I hadn't heard the conversation myself, I chose not to repeat them. Instead, I stated the facts: We had many incidents where customers, vendors, and employees became very upset as a result of one of my partner's outbursts (and I was prepared to list them). Business had declined, and employee turnover had increased. These were indisputable facts.
5. Tell them exactly what you want.
Be up front, and let the other person know what you want as soon as possible. Again, be kind yet firm.
When I sat down with my partner, I told her that I was glad that we had partnered and listed a few positive things that came out of our joint venture. Then I expressed that it was no longer working and that it was time to part ways. Being up front and honest right off the bat saved a lot of time and angst.
6. Communicate your why.
In addition to knowing your desired outcome, it's important to know why you want it, and that you share your why.
I was honest, yet kind, to my partner. I let her know that we had extremely different management styles, and that I needed to be independent because it was best for me and the business. My why was freedom, which was incredibly important to me. This was an indisputable fact and left no room for argument.
7. Be attentive.
Knowing what you want is important, but sometimes there is a missing piece to the puzzle that you are not aware of. This may or may not change your desired outcome, but be prepared to listen. For most people, it's important to be heard, and this alone makes the conversation less confrontational. Don't argue every point; just listen.
8. Use the power of I.
I'm sure you've heard people say things like, "You make me so angry!" The truth is, we choose our feelings. No one can make you feel anything you don't want to feel. The use of the word you sounds accusatory. Instead, choose I. "I feel really angry, but I still believe we can resolve this" will get you closer to what you want. When you own your feelings, the other party will be more inclined to listen, because they won't need to defend themselves.
9. Don't stoop to insults.
You're no longer a kid in the sandbox, so remain civil during your conversation. Again, don't point your finger; just stick to the facts. If your opponent chooses to insult you, calmly tell the person that you are inclined to postpone the conversation, or to act on your decision without his or her input. Ask the person to refrain from the insults.
10. Keep your cool.
Remain in control of your emotions, no matter what the other person does or says. This doesn't mean you can't have emotions, only that you refrain from an out-of-control reaction. You will fuel the other person's negative emotions by adding your own. A one-sided emotional outburst usually doesn't last long.