Constructive Confrontation, in Seven Easy Steps

The Modern Survival Guide #7

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Step 1: Identify Your Grievance

People always screw this up. Identifying a grievance is almost never a simple matter, because usually what someone is doing to piss you off is just the tip of your mental iceberg. It’s a function of past interactions, your health or lack thereof, whether you’re stressed, whether someone cut you off in traffic, and any other externalities that affect your personal interactions on any given day. Sometimes the most minor thing will push you over the edge and make you want to murder someone. You need to figure out whether or not it’s really worth confronting them.

Step 2: Plan Your Attack

“Attack” is probably a bad word here, but it looks baller in the header, so I’m keeping it. What you’re doing here is planning out your phrasing and identifying key points you want to raise regarding your grievance. You want to do a couple of things in this step.

Step 3: Pick Your Battles

There are ideal and non-ideal times to have a constructive confrontation with someone. Ideal times are when neither of you are particularly stressed or busy. Non-ideal times are when one of you is either over-stressed or too busy to talk.

Step 4: Have the Talk

Once you’ve isolated a grievance, planned what you have to say, and identified a good time to say it, you need to actually confront the other party. Depending on the personality involved, you may or may not want to tell them that you’re going to do this beforehand. If you aren’t sure which way to go on this, my suggestion is to surprise them. Giving people time to plan ahead also gives them time to stew, and they may be on the defensive more than they would be if you just blindside them. It’s a bit of a gamble either way.

Step 5: Keep It Short

Time is not on your side once you start a confrontation. You want to keep it short — specifically, you want to keep it to an appropriate length, and not go over that length. You don’t need to talk at someone for half an hour if you just want them to stop picking their teeth when they talk to you. Like thirty seconds is about right for that.

Step 6: Leave the Room

This step shares some similarities with the advice for apologies (see entry #6). Confrontations are stressful and embarrassing at the best of times. You’ve just challenged some part of another person’s identity. They may not be happy with this. They may be entitled to be unhappy. They almost certainly need time to process without feeling like you’re judging them even more.

Step 7: Afterward

The goal of a constructive confrontation is to change behavior. If it works, great. No more issue. If the behavior that caused your initial grievance doesn’t change, that’s a problem. That means that the person you confronted either doesn’t understand your problem, doesn’t think it’s a big deal, or doesn’t value you as a person. You can fix the first two by rinsing and repeating the confrontation. You can’t do much about the last one. That last one is how you make enemies and end relationships. But that’s a separate discussion.

Searching for truth in a world focused on belief.

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