Best Way To Handle Yourself In A Conflict Situation
A journalist writing an article for a teen magazine asked me if there were any phrases or words that a person should stay away from in a conflict situation?
My answer: I think it is more useful to understand the principles at work in communication than it is to figure out the right thing to say. Because situations change, and if you know the principles of communication, you can adapt. But if you have a playbook of set things to say, they may not fit.
She then asked, “Is there a right way to approach a confrontation? Or is it a matter of the principles?”
I said, “What do you mean by confrontation?” She said,”If a young girl is having an issue with her friend and wants to address that problem, what would be the best way for her to go about doing that? Especially if the friend is a type to forget the problem, pretend it doesn’t exist…”
If you think it’s important to talk it out with someone, then by all means do so. But first you have to be on the same page about talking it out. And that’s more likely to happen if you give somebody a reason to listen. Tell her your positive intent in talking with her, so she understands the good reasons for what you’re about to say. Speak to her interest in having a good relationship with you.
For example, if I came to you for a difficult conversation, I’d preface it by giving you a good reason to hear what I have to say. I’d tell you, ” I care about our friendship, I know it can be stronger and better.” I’d ask, “Would you be open to that?”
Then, as you proceed to talk it out, make a distinction between what she actually did and your reaction to it. “When you did (whatever it was), the effect it has on me was (and then just say it straight out.) I wound up feeling like you don’t care about me.”
The journalist asked, “Is it more effective to not have an accusing tone?” I replied, “Yes.” Had I used an accusing tone, ,it might have sounded like, “Yes, you idiot.”
So, for example, you could say, “When you look at me that way, (and you describe the actual look rather than your opinion about it), I feel afraid to speak up.” Or, “When you say you’re going to show up and then you don’t, I wind up wondering and worrying about what’s going on with you.”
The most basic principle: Nobody cooperates with anybody who seems to be against them. And next in line is this one. If all you know is what you don’t want, you will get more of it. When you say, “I don’t want to be talked to like that,” or
“I don’t want to be treated that way,” nature hates a vacuum, and you probably will be talked to like that or treated that way because the other person didn’t know another way and you’ve failed to provide one. Better to say what you do want. Better still to ask for it.
That means you have to know what you want. So before approaching someone, I take the time to decide what I want to happen. Not the result I don’t want, but the one that I do want.
I said to the journalist, “Remember a few minutes ago when you asked if it was better not to have an accusing tone?” And she said “Yes.” I continued, “The real question is what kind of tone do you want? And in my case, I’d want the tone of my voice to tell the person that I care, that I’m interested, and that everything I’m saying is aimed at making things better.”
To which the journalist replied, “Thank you. I get it. Knowing what you want, making the distinction between what someone is doing and what you think about what they’re doing, and then knowing the principles of good communication, you can engage with people in a positive instead of a negative way.” And I said, “Yep, you got it.”
And now, you have it. Get it?
Your comments are always welcome. Be well,
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.