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The Art of Personal Confrontation – How to have difficult conversations

A Six Step NLP Guide on how to have difficult conversations in your personal life.

“We live in an interdependent world and our success, as well as our ability to get along and enjoy ourselves depends in no small part on our ability to have cohesive and collaborative relationships. Which is great and really easy when we are all like each other, but what about when we have differences, grievances, when we have been offended or displeased? What about all of the people we don’t get along well with? How do we successfully navigate the realm of relationships without giving up our needs in a game of pretend nice, or destroying relationships with blunt disagreement?

Welcome to the art of positive confrontation. If there is an art to learn, it is the art of having difficult conversations and positively confronting others.” – James Hayes


What exactly is “Confrontation?”

Confrontation literally refers to come “face to face” with another person. We mostly use it for unpleasant encounters when we have to go face-to-face with another person to bring up something that the other person probably does not want to hear. And that’s what makes confrontation challenging and difficult for most.


Why is confrontation so important?

Confrontation is part of healthy conflict resolution and meditation. Wherever there are human beings who have wills of their own, conflict and disagreement are inevitable. There is no escaping that. For us to relate healthily with each other and collaborate rather than compete, we must face each other and find out how to mesh our differing wills.

In this way, confrontation is a gift of relationship that enables you to troubleshoot relational problems. By confronting you can point out incongruities, identify things that seriously hurt or bother you, smoke out potentially dangerous issues, and be straight with one another in service of strengthening the relationship.


How to confront effectively:

Positive confrontation refers to the process whereby we can bring something up that has the

potential of being negative, hurtful, and/or sensitive, but do so in such a way that it comes across in a constructive and respectful way.

In healthy confrontation, you can bring up negative concerns that bother you. You then talk about those concerns with the person or persons in the hope of resolving the conflict. Confrontation does not mean shouting at someone, being mean, rough, gruff, or hurtful. It means being authentic while preserving the relationship. It usually requires a strong combination of firmness and care — firm compassion.

So how do we go about this?


First, Frame Confrontation in a positive way

The first task is to deal with yourself and your thinking. Until you frame this process in a way that allows you to appreciate its values and find it as an attractive alternative to letting things go, you won’t learn these high-level skills. Begin by framing confrontation as a caring process that is inevitable, critical, and healthy for relationships.

Confrontation isn’t a case of “lowering the boom” on someone in one fell swoop. It is rather an ongoing interchange of communication wherein you commune with another person about what you think, feel, want, etc. because you want to create clarity and understanding. In confronting you deliver a message that seeks to make things better. You evaluate, give advice, rebuke, warn, etc. with the aim of communicating something important with care and respect. This is the art of being kindly tough rather than a pushover or tyrant.


Second, Check your State

Whenever you go face-to-face with someone in a straightforward way, you will need to be sure that you are ready, mentally and emotionally. Are you so angry you can’t stand it? Then you are not ready to confront anyone. Are you unable of listening in an attentive way to the other’s position? You are not ready either. Have you clarified your mind so that you know what you want to say? If not, you’re not ready. And if you’re not ready, then don’t do it.

If you are confronting out of stress, fear, anger, shame or any other strong negative emotion—you are merely reacting and not responding with your full resources. If you attempt something as complex as confrontation “from the seat of your pants” it will almost never be effective. You will be confronting from a defensiveness that will provoke defensiveness and get nowhere. These questions highlight the fact that effective confrontation requires that you are in a good and resourceful state to begin with.


Third, Separate Person and Behavior.

Healthy confrontation focuses on behavior that is objectionable or unacceptable and not the person’s thoughts, attitudes, or emotions. What specifically is the person doing that elicits the need within you to confront them? As you then identify the behavior, do so with the recognition that they are more than, and different from, their behavior. This distinction will then free you to simultaneously affirm the person.

  • What behavior is objectionable to you?
  • What behavior hurts you? How does it hurt you? In what way?
  • What damage is it doing? How do you know and make that evaluation?

This frame will give you a de-stressing point of view. You have not made him (as a person) or his intentions the problem. Only the behavior is the problem —to you. If you operate from the belief that another person is perverse, hateful, worthless, etc., you corrode your ability to trust that person and this then will create all kinds of crooked communication and relational patterns.


Fourth, Approach with the Right Attitude

Positive confrontation occurs best in an atmosphere conducive for resolving things. This means approaching the other respectfully with good will, trust, in a relaxed way, and an openness to listen. Don’t just impose your confrontation on the person. Allow him or her to get mentally and emotionally ready. If you surprise the person when he is not looking if you pull it on her when she is hot, defensive, feeling insecure, scared, or if you try it when he hasn’t clarified his thoughts, things will not turn out very positive.

So invite the person into the process:

  • “I have something that’s really bothering me and I would like to sit down and share it with you. Would this be a good time or would another time be better for you?”


Fifth, Package your Communications in Gentleness

Gentleness is a key component for successful and positive confrontation. Make it your aim to make it safe for the other person to hear you out. Do this private so that there will not be any chance of pushing the person’s embarrassment buttons so that he or she loses face in public.

Offer your criticism tentatively. Give disclaimers as you do such as, “I may be wrong…”

Set forth in an objective manner what you know or believe to be the facts. Use “I” statements to take responsibility. I may be wrong in how I am understanding and reading this, but this is where I am today and these are the facts that have led to my conclusions. What do you think?


Good confronting aims at getting the facts right before drawing conclusions. It is not about conquering people. Certain language patterns help with presenting facts. As mentioned, using I” statements and avoiding “you” statements. This also helps to eliminate mind-reading button pushing, and accusatory statements.

If you say:

  • You don’t listen to what I am saying.”
  • You don’t care about what happens to our money.”
  • You only think about yourself!”

These “you” statements assume that you know the mind, heart, intentions, bad motives of the other person. That’s mind-reading and is not only dangerous to your health, it one of the lowest levels of communication.


Sixth, State your wants and Invite Collaboration

If your complaint refers to something in the past, make a request about what you want from the other person in the here and now of the present. “What I would like to accomplish is … What I want from you is …” Identify the incongruous messages or responses that you want to confront in the other person.

To invite collaboration, ask such questions as:

  • How can we find a solution that will be mutually satisfying?
  • What alternatives can you imagine to help both of us win?
  • How can we make things better?
  • This doesn’t seem very productive, what ideas do you have that might enable both of us to fulfill our needs?


Putting it all together

These six steps will hold you in great esteem in relationships and really sharpen your skills as a partner, parent, and friend. Reading them is easier then performing them however, and like any skill confrontation requires practice to become skillful. If becoming skillful in your relating, leading and communicating is indeed important to you than give yourself an advantage by learning NLP and train these skills professionally.


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