November 4th, 2008
A former colleague of mine has complete conversations in his head with people that he is angry with, and rarely directly with the other person. This anger in his head continues to build because of his frustration, yet he never lets the other person know that he is frustrated and subsequently angry. It got so bad that he almost lost his marriage because he didn’t let his wife into these conversations he was having with her; but by himself. It was almost too late by the time he did bring her into the real conversation. His need to avoid confrontation is so strong that he has a safe confrontation in his mind and feels that he has dealt with the issue. As you can imagine, this doesn’t work (especially for the other person involved).
Are you guilty of this?
Many of us are very uncomfortable when it comes to confrontation. I understand the concept of having the conversation in your head; so you can plan out what you want to say and how you want to say it. Sometimes these conversations by ourselves are enough to settle the issue, and realize we are making too much out of a simple situation. I know that I have spent hours lying in bed at night having conversations with people I am angry and frustrated with. Not only does it disrupt your sleep, your attitude and your health, it never really resolves the issue either, and potentially is damaging to your relationships.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that we need to confront every action either.
If you have the conversation once in your head, don’t worry about it. If it comes back and you have it again, perhaps start thinking about making it into a real conversation. By the third “in your head” confrontation, you need to start planning how you will deal with the real confrontation, because it looks like you are going to need to do that.
Start with preparing yourself for what the issue really is. Be able to state the issue in one (or two), non-emotional, factual based sentences.
For example: Let’s assume you want to confront your coworker about her taking all the credit for the work that the two of you did together. Instead of saying “You are taking all the credit blah blah blah… (and venting your frustration)” (which is what we might say in our head), rephrase it using the above guidelines.
“It looks as if I had no part in the Johnson account. My name does not appear anywhere on the document, nor I have been given credit anywhere.”
We’ve used some other communication techniques such as “I” language as well here. I avoided using the words “I feel” because that is an emotional statement, without proof and facts. The facts in this statement cannot be refuted, yet an “I feel” can be refuted easily.
When the person you are confronting responds, LET THEM RESPOND. Most of us tend to want to justify further what we are saying, defend why we feel that way, and generally prepare ourselves for an argument.
Say what you want to say (the confrontation), then just let them respond.
Since most of us have had this conversation in our head a few times, we “know” how they are going to respond and jump to that point before they even get there. Resist temptation to say anything else at this point. Let them respond.
Confrontation does not mean fight. It means: state what you have say. Listen to what they have to say. Many times it actually ends right here. Do we need to prove someone right or wrong? Does someone have to take blame? Get your frustration off your chest, and move on.
Figure out what resolution you want before the confrontation.
If you approached your coworker with the above initial statement, her response is likely going to be quite defensive. Perhaps something like: “Yes you have been given credit. I said both our names to the boss just last week.”
If you already know what you are looking for, this is where you move the conversation. Don’t get into an argument about whether she did or didn’t mention anything to the boss last week .. that isn’t really the issue and don’t let it distract you.
Your response could be “I would appreciate if in the future if we could use both our names on any documentation, and include each other in all the correspondence about the project.”
Focus on the issue.
They will either agree or disagree. Keep to the issue at this point, and avoid all temptation to get into an argument. Negotiate, but don’t fight. The issue is you aren’t receiving credit, and you want your name on the documentation. That’s it. It isn’t about blame, about who is right or wrong or anything other than the resolution you are looking for.
Confrontation will rarely be something you are looking forward to, comfortable or even good at. However, it is important that we say something when we are frustrated and angry. If you can’t stand up for yourself, who will?