Some people hold complete conversations in their minds with people with whom they are angry. Conflict averse people rarely speak directly with the other person. This anger in their mind continues to build because of the frustration they are experiencing. Yet they never let the other person know the degree to which they are frustrated and subsequently angry with them.
This type of conflict-avoidance can cost a person their marriage because they don't let their spouse participate in the conversations they have with them in their head. By the time they do bring their spouse into the real conversation., it may be too late for reconciliation.
The need for these individuals to avoid confrontation is so strong that he or she has a safe confrontation in their mind and feel that they have dealt with the issue. As you can imagine, this doesn't work—especially for the other person involved who doesn't even know that they are involved in the conversation.
Do You Hold Mental Conflict Confrontations or Practice Conflict Avoidance?
Are you guilty of holding mental conflicts and confrontations?
Many people are uncomfortable when it comes to confrontation. You can 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 mental conversations are enough to settle the issue, as you realize you are making too much out of a simple situation.
Many of you know that you have spent hours lying in bed at night having conversations with people with whom you are angry and frustrated. Not only does this practice disrupt your sleep, your attitude, and your health, it never really resolves the issue, and this approach is also potentially damaging to your relationships.
Don't take this advice wrong, you don't need to confront every action that other people take. 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 holding a real conversation. Or, figure out what you are afraid of that you are avoiding an essential confrontational conversation.
By the third in your head confrontation, you need to start planning how you will deal with the real confrontation because it looks as if you are going to need to have one.
How to Hold a Real, Necessary Conflict or Confrontation
Start by preparing yourself to confront the real issue. Be able to state the issue in one (or two), non-emotional, factual based sentences.
For example, assume you want to confront your coworker about taking all of the credit for the work that the two of you did together on a project.
Instead of saying, "You took all of the credit, blah, blah, blah..." and venting your frustration, which is what you might say in your mind, rephrase your approach using these guidelines.
Say instead, "It looks as if I played no role in the Johnson account. My name does not appear anywhere on the document, nor have I been given credit for my work anywhere that I can see."
(You will notice that additional communication techniques such as the I-statement have also been used in this approach. Notice that using the words "I feel" was avoided because that is an emotional statement, without proof and facts. The facts in this statement cannot be disputed, but conversely, an "I feel" statement is easy for your coworker to refute.)
Make your initial statement and stop talking.
When the person you are confronting responds to your initial statement of facts, allow them to respond. It's a human tendency, but don't make the mistake of adding to your initial statement, to further justify the statement.
Defending why you feel the way you do will generally just create an argument. Say what you want to say (the confrontation), then just allow the other person to respond.
You want to listen very carefully to catch the differences between what your initial statement indicated and your coworker's response. This is not a time when you should rehearse responses in your mind. Just listen effectively and stay open to the possibility that your coworker has a good reason for the actions taken. To focus on listening, you may make comments or ask questions on what the other party is saying to stay attentive to and ascertain that you are "really" hearing their response.
Especially since you've probably held the conversation in your head a few times, you may think you know how the other person is going to respond. But, it's a mistake to jump to that point before they have the opportunity to respond. Resist the temptation to say anything else at this point. Let them respond.
Avoid arguing during the confrontation.
Do you need to prove the other person right or wrong? Does someone have to take the blame? Get your frustration off your chest, and move on.
Figure out the conflict resolution you want before the confrontation.
If you approached your coworker with the initial statement, "You took all the credit, blah, blah, blah..." her response is likely going to be quite defensive. Perhaps she'll say something like, "Yes, you have been given credit. I said both of our names to the boss just last week."
If you already know what you are looking for in the confrontation, this is where you move the conversation. Don't get into an argument about whether your coworker did or didn't mention anything to the boss last week—that isn't really the issue and don't let it distract you from accomplishing the goal of the confrontation.
In order to resolve the conflict, your response could be, "I would appreciate if in the future that we use both of our names on any documentation, and include each other in all of the correspondence about the project."
Focus on the real issue of the confrontation.
The other party 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 that you aren't receiving credit, your colleague left your name off of the documentation, and you want your name on the documentation. (Projects in written form are better remembered in organizations than verbal credit when performance development planning and meetings about raises or promotions are held.)
That's it. It isn't about blame, about who is right or wrong, or anything other than your desired resolution. You want to affect how this issue is handled in future projects you work on with this individual. They will remember that you called them on their bad behavior.
The Bottom Line
You will rarely look forward to confrontation; you may never become completely comfortable with, or even skilled in holding a confrontation. However, it is important that you say something when you are frustrated and angry. If you can't stand up for yourself, who will?
More About Meaningful Confrontation and Conflict Resolution
For additional ideas about confrontation and conflict, see:
- Fight for What's Right: Ten Tips to Encourage Meaningful Conflict
- How to Tackle Annoying Employee Habits and Issues
- How to Hold a Difficult Conversation