The Truth About Confrontation
Happy Full Moon in Scorpio, witches!
Here’s my challenge to you today, this week, this month: Let people know how you feel. Part of being a Good Girl means avoiding confrontation at all costs. This kind of behavior results in being passive aggressive instead of direct, vulnerable, and honest about how something makes you feel – whether it’s with work colleagues, managers, partners, or friends. Of course, these conversations are difficult but they’re all part of being a Creative Leader. When asking Eileen Fisher on Heroine what she’s learned over the years of building her fashion empire – she stated simply, “to lean into difficult conversations.” How else are you going to grow and how else will your relationships flourish? I’m suspicious of overly harmonious relationships that have no tension or friction for years and years and years – that usually means someone is sitting on a big pile of bitter.
The Good Girl stays quiet and feels resentful. She lashes out in passive ways like gossiping, erratic behavior, and avoiding others. The Creative Leader, on the other hand, becomes aware that something is triggering her and lets it be known – with courage and strength.
A great framework for this I keep coming back to (and teaching all my clients) is called non-violent communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg. What I like about this tool is that it invites you to take full responsibility instead of judging and blaming others. Now, while all of us can’t be perfect and surely make mistakes, like getting defensive and offensive in difficult conversations, this is a great step-by-step rubric and template that can help you feel more grounded.
Here are the steps (and I’ve included examples below). This is perfect if you’ve recently felt triggered by a situation. Don’t let it fester for months or years – clear the air as soon as possible. I like to say, nip it in the bud. Most conflict builds up over time. When we leave things uncleared, we create a story about the other person, such as “He's just not a reliable person.” And then everything that person does from that point forward is seen through the lens of flakiness, which of course becomes confirmed. He forgets to call you back one time – Well that’s because he’s flaky! (meanwhile, the reality is that one of his parents is ill, or his dog just died...) And so on and so forth. So we can see how all human conflict arises from the basic lack of communication, story-making, and misalignments.
But there are ways to make it better and it includes a degree of courage and vulnerability – the ability to sit with the discomfort of telling someone, to their face, that something has bothered you.
#1 – State the fact
Oftentimes what we think are facts aren’t actually facts, but statements full of judgement and our subjectivity. State a fact that the other person couldn’t disagree with – as in you’d both agree that happened. For example: “Yesterday, you turned off the television before the show ended.” That is a fact. Watch out for sneaky words that imply judgement, such as, “Yesterday, you turned the television off while I was in the middle of watching my show.”
In this case, “before the show ended” is far more objective than “in the middle of watching my show,” which implies an unwanted interruption. Keep the facts devoid of emotion or judgement – non-arguable and specific. That’s the first step – state what actually happened. Another Rosenberg quote I love: “When we combine observation with evaluation, people are apt to hear criticism…Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.” I couldn’t agree more.
#2 - State how you felt
(Note: not how someone made you feel)
Most of us begin to blame here with the classic “I felt like you were doing what you wanted, which was to go get dinner.” Or “I felt like you completely ignored the fact that I was watching my show.” Beware of the “I felt like.” Instead, take full ownership by stating the emotion and feeling you felt without assuming the other person caused you to feel anything. Someone could do the exact same thing to someone else and they might feel completely differently about it – maybe not even care. Here’s the radical idea: Other people don’t make you feel any way – you are 100% responsible for how you feel. To quote Rosenberg again, "What others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause, of our feelings."
And remember from Pixar’s animated movie Inside Out that all feelings really stem from these big basic five: sadness, anger, disgust, joy, and fear. Your feeling is most likely a variation of one of these:
- I felt annoyed, ticked off = anger
- I felt turned off, repelled = disgust
- I felt grief-stricken, depressed, heartbroken = sad
- I felt nervous, anxious, frightened = fear
Back to the TV example, “After you turned off the television before the show ended, I felt annoyed.” See the difference?
#3 - Identify the underlying unmet need
Needs. We all have them. They’re universal. Sometimes if we’re brought up to be too good or nice, we’re shy about identifying our needs and in turn, we struggle asking others for what we need. Again, this leads to bitterness and resentment and it doesn’t serve anyone. There is nothing wrong with having needs, and it’s important to connect and articulate them to others in all our relationships – from friendships to lovers to co-workers. In this step, we acknowledge the root of our feelings. Continuing the example above: “After you turned off the television before the show ended, I felt angry because I need open communication.”
Example needs: transparency, communication, process, intimacy, connection, mutual understanding and so forth.
#4 – Make a request
Don’t be lofty and too high-level here – go specific. Don’t ask: “Can you be fully transparent in the workplace?” What are the specific actions associated with full transparency? For example, “Can you please email me before you circulate my notes?” “Can you please include my name on the slidedeck when presenting to the Vice President?”
What I like about this step is that you put the request out there, and the other person has the complete freedom to accept, turn it down, or counter offer. Finishing the example I’ve included throughout this article: “After you turned off the television before the show ended, I felt angry because I need to feel open communication. Instead of turning off the television, could you tell me how you’re feeling?”
So, circling back to my challenge. Can you think of someone you need to clear the air with? Again, it amazes me how we sit on these grudges for weeks, months, and years, all the while forming stories about people. That needs to stop. It’s time to pull up our big girl panties and tell people how we really feel about what happened, while taking full ownership and responsibility for our emotions.
Making a request may feel difficult, but you’ll be amazed at how people respond. So many of my clients have made requests they never dreamed were possible. The people they’ve “confronted” have gladly accepted, because the person did not feel judged or blamed.
I had one client recently tell me that when people confronted her, she felt like she was being "scolded" (years of Catholic confessions and her mother's parenting style). And so she avoided it. In our session, we reframed "confrontation" as an opportunity for one or two people to give each other feedback and make requests. And it can be bi-directional. If someone confronts you, you can take some time to process and then request another container to give them feedback (if you can't do it on the fly). All healthy relationships need some degree of friction to grow – it's natural.
Lots of love and enjoy the moonlight,
P.S. I'm really excited to announce that I'm writing a book on this subject. It aims to support women in overcoming their conditioning to unleash their creative power. I can't wait to share it with you. More soon!