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Confrontation isn’t pleasant. It’s typically associated with arguments and hostility.
Whether it’s a client, your spouse, family, or friends, there’s nothing pleasant about confronting someone. Out of self-preservation, we often expect the worst based on past situations that went bad.
Ben mentions in this episode that you generally have two types of confronters: doormats and bulldozers. Both of them stem from fear.
We share several anecdotes and lessons learned from past encounters along with some healthy ways to approach confrontation—everything from asking your boss for a raise to talking with the neighbor who plays his music too loud.
Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins:
- Come at confrontation from the standpoint of caring about the relationship you have with the other person.
- Conflict results from unset expectations at some point in the relationship.
- Don’t hold yourself responsible for the way someone else receives what you have to say.
- If the timing for the confrontation is constrained, you’re risk doing the topic a disservice.
- You should be able to find a positive in the discussion for the other person.
- Articulate what you want the outcome to be and try to frame the positives of that outcome for the other person
- There’s a difference between waiting to talk and listening.
- Everyone wants to be heard. If you make someone feel heard, you will have their attention.
- Sometimes, what you might lose in walking away from a situation is far less than you’ll loose in the long-run if you stay.
- If you’re not open to other resolutions, you could miss an opportunity to resolve it.
Here are the 6 tips we explore deeper in this episode:
- Determine Whether Confrontation Is Needed
- Dedicate Time for the Discussion
- Express Your Goals Contextually in the Best Interest of the Other Party
- Articulate What You Want the Outcome to Be
- Be Prepared to Walk Away
- Be Open to Resolutions Outside What You Envisioned
- 03:42 Sean: We’re talking about dealing with confrontation across the board, whether it’s clients, your spouse, family, or friends. We’ve got some tips for confronting people, but if you’re afraid of confronting someone, the tips aren’t going to help you.
- 04:16 Ben: I think the tips are a part of the solution to the fear of confrontation because it helps you to feel more prepared going into that discussion.
- 04:34 Sean: I was asking Cory earlier if he struggled with confrontation or has had to confront someone recently. I liked his answer, he said it’s typically not something he struggles with, but he said the future problems resulting from not confronting someone now aren’t worth it to him.
- 05:14 Cory: It goes for any kind of relationship—if there’s something that needs to be dealt with that you feel is small, it really isn’t as small as you think. If it’s bothering you, it’s worth confronting that person about and in the end, you’re both going to benefit. It’s going to be a much more meaningful conversation if, instead of just making yourself feel better, you:
Come at confrontation from the standpoint of caring about the relationship you have with the other person.
- 05:58 Ben: I like that you brought in the relationship there, because the only time confrontation is necessary is when there’s an ongoing relationship. When I say relationship, I mean that very broadly. If you’re going to continue having interactions with that person and they’re doing something or operating in a way that makes it difficult for you to relate for the mutual benefit of that relationship, then you should bring it up. If it’s not someone you’re going to continue to have contact with, is the confrontation really necessary?
Fear of Confrontation
- 06:45 Sean: When we were talking about this earlier, Ben, you mentioned that you think we talk ourselves into fear. Can you talk more on that?
- 06:57 Ben: When we’re thinking about something we need to confront someone about, sometimes we start to think for that other person. We start to assume what they think about us and the situation. We assume how they’re going to respond or react to what we have to say. Unless you’re a very positive person, thinking for other people is going to tend to be negative, because you naturally want to deal with worse-case scenarios. In doing so, a lot of people become so afraid of the potential for negativity that they avoid it. There’s this long-term consequence but it’s difficult to see through this short-term perceived consequence of potential negativity.
- 08:13 I want to stop thinking for someone else all together. You can’t guess at how they’re going to respond or how they feel about you right now, and you’re not responsible for that other person’s emotions. Maybe you’re perpetuating a situation where they feel a certain way when they experience that but you’re not responsible for that. The other option is to force yourself to think positively about that other person, “They want whats best for them and for me. They want the best out of this situation.” That may feel unnatural at first, but I’ve found that when I’m having that negative self-talk, the person always surprises me by landing on the more positive side.
- 09:28 Sean: I wonder if it’s a projection of past experiences gone bad so it’s a defense mechanism preventing yourself from being let down. We imagine the worse-case scenario, but in reality, they’re probably not going to do or say all the things you assumed. If you’re not recognizing their reaction might be different from what your expectation is, you may not even be able to process it. It’s confirmation bias—you’re waiting for them to say what you’re expecting them to say.
Conflict results from unset expectations at some point in the relationship.
- 10:32 Ben: You have to deal with the reality that different people respond differently to confrontation. Either the relationship has evolved to a certain point where new expectations need to be set or they weren’t set to begin with. When you bring that to someone it can be a surprise and some people respond well to that. For some people, as soon as that wall goes up where there’s new expectations and new boundaries, they have this natural tendency to fight against that. Sometimes people become a doormat and let others walk all over them and whether it’s the person doing the confronting or the person being confronted, they want to try to make everyone happy and give them what they want.
- 12:02 Sean: Earlier, you said there’s doormats and bulldozers and in my mind, they seem like opposites, but you were saying they aren’t.
- 12:10 Ben: They’re opposites in the sense that they’re completely different reactions, but those reactions come from the same place of fear. It’s easy to see it as, “I’m a doormat because I’m afraid. I don’t want to cause any conflict here,” but the bulldozer is also afraid and their way of handling that is to push past anything in their way. If they run people over, then they don’t have to deal with them.
- 12:52 Sean: When you have a doormat and a bulldozer, they never actually meet. One lays flat and one goes right over so they miss each other.
- 13:13 Ben: That missed interaction is what they’re looking for because they don’t want to deal with it. The healthiest way to be is a wall. If you think about the way walls work in your house, they’re a boundary. The walls aren’t trying to encroach on you but it’s also not going to back off. It’s there to tell you where the boundary is. If you decided you didn’t like where the boundary was and you tried to walk beyond that boundary the wall is setting, the wall is going to win.
- 14:26 What I really like about this picture is it’s being very clear about where the boundaries and expectations are without being pushy or trying to dominate. It’s just, “I’m here and I’m not going anywhere,” which communicates the clear boundaries, but it’s also setting boundaries because you want to have a healthy relationship.
- 15:28 Sean: When we were four or five episodes into the Lambo Goal show, Matt cancelled one of the recordings. Just because something is cancelled doesn’t mean it’s all over, but it was seeming like he wasn’t fully committed to doing the show. I wasn’t willing to go into doing this show without both of us being fully committed because I think it would have set us up for disaster, so I was in the position of needing to confront Matt to tell him we have to be fully committed. It was an awkward situation and confronting isn’t always fun, but I have to acknowledge that if we are going to have this show on the network, it needs to be consistent. People come to expect it and it’s a reflection on the brand and on me.
- 16:38 The brand perception and audience that exists are part of the appeal of being on the network, but what comes along with that are the expectations. We have to deliver on the expectations we’ve set, so I confronted him and said, “We’ve got to do this and at this time. This is on the schedule and it’s a thing we’re doing. If something else comes up, it’s the same as any other meeting you have, you simply aren’t available.” Eventually, he set aside Wednesdays to be able to do the show.
- 17:43 Ben: What I like about the approach you took with that is there wasn’t a need for you to try to manipulate the situation to get what you want. It was very black and white. Part of what complicates it is thinking for other people. We talk ourselves into a complicated web of possibilities. We should distill it down into something that’s simple and say, “If we’re going to do this, this is what we need to do,” or, “If we want to move forward with this relationship, this is what needs to happen,” and not try to manipulate the situation into going the way we want it to. Maybe part of that has to come from the desired outcome. You wanted to continue producing the show every week, but your desire to do that wasn’t causing you to manipulate the outcome you wanted.
- 19:13 Sean: I thought about it and I knew there were ways we could make it work. I could say that we could do it remotely, cut the time of the show down, or any number of things that would have gotten him to say yes, regardless of the quality or value of the yes he could give me. I could have gone the route of manipulating him or making him feel bad just to get that yes, even though he’s in the position of needing to say no. It would have been a bad thing if I tried to get a yes regardless of the quality of it. I decided that if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s put out the expectations and the nonnegotiables. I put up that wall.
- 20:29 My second story just happened last night. I spoke at a conference, Creative South, where we recorded video of my talk and posted the video just this week. We had a lot invested in that video—paying for Cory to fly to and attend the conference, paying his salary to do that and edit the video when we got back, etc. I went into this talk with the mentality that it would be recorded and it would have a greater impact than this one event, in this one room, with this one group of people. The amount of preparation, time, and practice I put into it was with that in mind. I hadn’t been required to sign any release saying that I give up my exclusive rights for someone else to take video of my talk and put it up somewhere. I also didn’t give up any of my own rights to my own content, so everything seemed normal until I got a few calls last night.
- 22:07 It was requested I take the video down, because the conference had another company come out and record video. Their arrangement was this company gets to put the video recordings on their site under their membership for an exclusive 60 days. In the phone conversation, the conference organizer mentioned, “The speaker release you signed,” and I said, “Oh, I was never given a speaker release or told anything about recordings or rights.” He was dismayed because there had obviously been an oversight. It certainly wasn’t my fault, but it wasn’t his personal fault either. He has a million things to do and he has helpers, but somewhere there was an oversight. From my perspective, it’s frustrating that I never signed away any rights and I’m being requested to take down a video, along with all these sunk costs on my part.
- 23:39 Fortunately, this was only a 60 day exclusive period, but if it had been for forever or in perpetuity, I don’t know if I would have done it. I went into it thinking my time and preparation for this talk would have a greater impact and that’s what made it a worthy time investment for me. If I wanted to be hardball, I could have said, “Look, I never signed anything. That’s your guys’ bad,” but I decided to put myself in the shoes of this other company that shot this video. They had an arrangement with the conference where they’re expecting all speakers to sign a release. I’d hate for the conference to get in trouble because I never got the paperwork. I love this conference and the people there so I didn’t want to put them in a tough spot. Fortunately, since it’s only a 60 day period, I can put the video back up.
- 25:09 I ended up taking the video down for now and putting up a notice saying sorry to get peoples’ hopes up. I certainly would have waited 60 days to put the video up if I had been aware. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating for both parties. When he asked me to take the video down, I went into it thinking, “How am I going to respond to this? I still retain the rights and I have this relationship I don’t want to burn any bridges with. This is an important conference and I want to go back. I appreciate them but I also wasn’t informed.”
- 26:07 Ben: When you’re telling this story, I see three different parties involved—the media company, the conference organizer, and you. Each of those parties has some level of responsibility and responsibility is different from fault. Responsibility is the actions that you could take in the future to avoid this situation. There are actions you could have taken in that situation that, had you known, would have gotten yourself into the know. The conference organizer and media company could have checked things down the line before the conference was over, but then there’s the legal aspect—what your rights are, what their rights are, etc.—and there’s also a relational aspect. You have to decide what the most important of those aspects are.
- 28:12 Sean: Those aspects may have different weights. Going into the situation, you have no idea how the other person is going to be. They could be a total antagonistic, nonnegotiable, bulldozer, or they could be nice, passive, and apologetic. He was very kind when we talked about this on the phone. He didn’t want this experience at all for me and said that I could say no. If you go into it thinking the other person is going to be hardball and you need to be hardball, you’re not going to be prepared to meet them where they are. How are you going to handle things when they’re being very kind and don’t want to burn this bridge?
- 30:13 Ben: You mentioned the name of the conference organizer and it’s easy when you assign a name—a human being—to feel the weight of that relational piece, as opposed to a company.
- 31:13 Sean: Cory Miller used to work for AT&T and he said people would call and say, “You jacked up my bill!” People feel like they’re talking to the company.
- 31:34 Ben: If you can do this exercise in your mind where you recognize there’s a human being who’s responsible for the company or one piece of it, it’ll give that relational piece the weight it deserves. When we think of companies and organizations, and we don’t allow ourselves to zoom in on the individual, we don’t give the relational piece the weight it deserves, even if it wouldn’t be the heaviest thing on the list.
Handling Emotional Confrontations
- 32:17 Sean: In the chat room, Christopher asks, “Emotions can play a large role in dealing with confrontations. Can you avoid manipulating someone or feeling that way when resolving issues with an emotional person?” I also wanted to bring in this comment from Kyle, “A big piece of the puzzle for me in confrontations is stepping back and really listening to what the other person is trying to say. People usually have good intensions, but they can’t articulate how they feel and/or they’ve stored it up for so long it might seem worse than it really is.” It’s getting to the roots of the intensions they have, because that may not come across very apparent in the beginning.
- 33:08 Ben: The question and the comment are very connected, because what’s happening on either side is you’re either feeling responsible for someone else’s emotions or you’re allowing the actions of someone else to influence your emotions. I like what Kyle was saying about stepping back. In the heat of the moment, the feelings you’re feeling can shade your emotions a certain way. Instead of, “You made me feel…” I like to say, “I feel,” because it’s taking responsibility for your own emotions. When you do that, you recognize you feel a certain way, but if you didn’t feel this way and you listen to the other person objectively, what would you learn from this conversation? To Christopher’s question, as difficult as it is:
You can’t hold yourself responsible for the way someone else receives what you have to say.
- 34:48 You can be aware of their emotionality and speak in a language that attempts to not trigger certain things, but you can’t control whether or not what you’re saying is going to trigger something in them. Sometimes, that means you say your peace and let them work through their own emotions before they can see what you’re saying for what it really is.
- 35:20 Sean: Christopher’s question is interesting to me because I can see the temptation to attempt to manipulate someone who’s coming into the conversation emotionally, but that ties back to the relational aspect. How important is the relationship to you? Manipulation will effect the relationship and the next time you have a confrontation or discussion. That’s a terrible feedback loop to be in. It builds the habit and it’s not healthy. It’s like the long-game thing again: you could manipulate now and maybe “get away” with it, or “win” this particular instance, but in the long-run, it’s bad. You’re better off being the wall and saying, “This is what we’re dealing with, let’s have a conversation.” You’re better off doing that than trying to stab them in the back or twist one of their emotions into getting what you want, because it’s going to shape how the relationship works and how you deal with confrontation in the future.
- 36:55 Ben: When you don’t allow yourself to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions, you don’t have to be afraid of their emotional response either. I like the picture of the wall because, like ocean waves against a cliff, it doesn’t go anywhere. You can crash against me if you need to—you can feel those feelings—I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere. I’m not afraid of the way you feel.
- 37:39 Sean: What about the person who’s thinking, “Well, Ben said I’m not responsible for the other person’s emotions, if I’m manipulating them, then they’re responsible for that. They’re responsible for allowing their emotions to come into this and if they hadn’t, I couldn’t manipulate them?”
- 38:00 Ben: You can give yourself whatever permission you want to, you just have to deal with the fact you’re manipulating people. That’s being a bulldozer in a way. You’re not dealing with them on a relational level, you’re trying to get your way and manipulation seems like the path of least resistance. You’re really doing it out of fear.
1. Determine Whether Confrontation Is Needed
- 40:34 Sean: You may be jumping to the conclusion that this requires a confrontation, but does it really? Maybe this is just a one-time thing. If your neighbors are playing loud music and it’s New Years Eve, they probably having a party and they’re probably not going to do that again on the evening of January 2nd. Maybe there isn’t a confrontation that’s needed. First, determine that it’s actually needed before you jump into it.
- 41:15 Ben: You have to do the work of thinking through the scenario. If they’ve shown this tendency in the past and it could potentially have long-term effects, maybe you should bring it up.
- 41:51 Cory: Whatever is going on between the two people, multiply it, and if you think that will get in the way, see if it’s needed.
2. Dedicate Time for the Discussion
- 42:22 Ben: In the chat room earlier, Justin asked, “When is the right time to bring something up?” I think there’s some finesse that has to go with the timing of that.
- 42:42 Sean: This is related, but I know some people will want to hash it out immediately because they don’t want to carry the emotional burden. Maybe it’s not the best time, place, or context to do it. If the timing is constrained for a confrontation, you’re doing the topic a disservice. Maybe you need to schedule time and say, “Let’s treat this topic with respect, because you’re an important person to me. I care about how you feel and I don’t want to do this a disservice.”
- 44:33 Ben: I have this picture in my head of neighbors who live across from each other in an apartment building and one of them parties, but do you catch them as they’re leaving or coming home? How do you navigate that?
- 45:18 Sean: It’s a balance between doing that and saying, “Hey, we need to talk. When do you have two hours we can put on the calendar?” Imagine you’re putting this in your calendar. What do you put as a title, “We need to talk,” or would you put what you want to talk about? If you put a label on the topic, people feel better about it. Example: “Hey, Cory. We need to talk about editing that recap video and where we’re going to post it.” Now, he knows he’s not going to be fired. People want it narrowed down a little bit.
- 45:59 Ben: You’re being very specific, but you’re also not obligating them to engage in a conversation at that moment.
- 46:18 Sean: You also have to allow yourself not to engage, because sometimes the person might feel obligated and other times, they might be chomping at the bit and you need to be the one to say, “Let’s hold off.”
- 46:35 Ben: You want to be prepared for them to say they have the time right then. You’re probably underestimating the weight of this for them. They might say it’s more important than being on time for the thing they were on their way to. If someone said that to me but didn’t commit me to it, I would make time to talk about it right then. It gets people off the defensive immediately.
3. Express Your Goals Contextually in the Best Interest of the Other Party
- 48:06 Sean: This takes a little bit of creative thinking. I’m not talking about manipulating them, but assuming that you’re about the mutual benefit and the relationship, you should be able to find a positive in this for the other person. Even if you want a raise, you really want to be able to do your best work, which helps your boss and helps the company make more money. Part of putting people off the defensive is starting with “I,” which you alluded to earlier. Here’s some examples:
- “I want to be able to do my best work for you.”
- “I would love for us to have a successful project together.”
- “I want to continue to be able to work with you.”
- “It’s my desire that you be able to enjoy yourself.”
- 49:05 Frame these things as being in their best interest as well, not just making it all about you.
- 49:26 Ben: I’m trying to think of a scenario where you wouldn’t be able to position it in their best interest, like, “I need for this to stop because it’s hurting me.”
- 49:40 Sean: I think you could still make it a “we” thing. If you can show them the upsides of resolving this, that’s great, but at the very least, make it a collective thing. If it’s a relationship thing and they’re doing something that hurts you, it may not be fun for them to stop doing it but let’s focus on the relationship here. You can say, “I want us to be able to relate well and I want to be the best I can for you.”
- 50:19 Ben: Scenario: you live in an apartment building, where there’s assigned parking. Your parking spot is right in front of the stairs and your neighbor across the hall’s spot is across the parking lot, but they consistently park in your spot so you have to park in their spot. Maybe that’s a situation where there’s not a benefit for them to work it out.
- 51:12 Sean: You can frame it, “I want you to be able to own your parking spot. I would hate for you to park all the way in another spot if other people took up your spot. I want to make sure we’re being respectful of everyone’s spots here, including yours. I would hate for you to not have a spot if it was ever crowded.”
4. Articulate What You Want the Outcome to Be
- 52:40 Ben: In order for you to articulate to the other party what you want the outcome to be, you have to know it ahead of time. Sometimes we go into confrontations knowing that there’s something wrong and able to identify the painpoint, but not having fully thought out what we want to have fixed going forward.
- 53:15 Sean: If you’re the other person thinking, “What are they trying to get at? What are they actually wanting?” How about just asking them? “How would this look from your perspective if we resolved this? What can I do?” to help them get it all out on the table.
- 53:43 Ben: Sometimes the other person doesn’t want you to change or fix something, sometimes they just want to be heard and for you to understand how they feel.
- 53:58 Sean: Do you find that people in that situation are usually able to articulate that? If not, have you recognized any signs that’s the case?
- 54:13 Ben: I’m not very good at it. After 12 years of marriage, I’m still struggling with recognizing the desired outcome being something I fix vs. the desired outcome is that I hear and understand.
- 54:56 Sean: Neither am I. Maybe you can resolve it and maybe you can’t but at least if they’re heard and understood, you’re on their side.
- 55:03 Ben: I would say 99% of the time, that’s one of the high priorities of any confrontation is that someone wants to be heard and understood. If you can just assume that’s the case and communicate that you understand them, the rest of the conversation is going to be much smoother. Go there first, regardless of whether or not you think that’s the case. Most of the time it is the case. People want to be heard and understood primarily and then they have secondary goals.
- 55:50 Sean: For someone right now who’s thinking, “What about this person I deal with that constantly interrupts?” That’s in and of itself a mini confrontation you need to have and you should frame it as something that’s in their best interest.
There’s a different between waiting to talk and listening.
- 56:17 Like you said, everyone wants to be heard. This isn’t just certain types of people or personalities. For some people that’s the soul goal and others are seeking a resolution but still want to be heard, so meet them there. Have the common ground and say, “I want to make sure I’m listening to you and I’m not projecting my own expectations of what you’re going to say. I want to actually listen to you and respond. It’s fair if we both do that and give each other turns, because I want to respect what you’re saying, just as much as I want you to respect what I’m saying.”
- 57:04 Ben: That takes a lot of patience too because sometimes the person thinks out loud. They haven’t been able to fully process their feelings or their thoughts about what they’re trying to say, so they tend to ramble through that until they finally reach a conclusion. It might take a few rounds of back-and-forth with them before they get to what they’re really trying to say.
- 57:34 Cory: I hear a lot of people that know the right words to say in that situation. Don’t just start your sentence with, “I hear you,” and then say your point. Actually have the intention of hearing them and then expound upon what they’re saying. Let them know you’re hearing them instead of just saying it.
- 58:09 Ben: It’s so powerful if you can say back to them in your own words what you’ve heard them say. It’s also a great way to get clarity because maybe you’ve heard them but you haven’t heard what they’re really trying to say, or maybe they haven’t said it in the way they intended to say it. Feed that back to them.
- 58:31 Sean: You provide them an opportunity to correct. I like that, because immediately, you’re letting them know that they’re heard. It also does something even better for you, because everyone wants to be heard and as soon as you make people feel heard, they’re attention is at peak levels. You have their utmost attention right at that moment, which is also the moment where you deliver what you need to say. By acknowledging them, you actually get more of their attention on what you’re wanting to communicate to them.
- 59:38 Ben: It’s so backwards to the way we think communication works sometimes.
- 59:45 Sean: It’s like, “My goal is for you to hear me. I want all your attention to be on what I’m trying to communicate to you so I’m going to deliver everything I have to say because it’s important,” and it’s counter intuitive.
5. Be Prepared to Walk Away
- 1:00:11 This may not be the solution to everything. I’m not saying if you and your spouse have a fight, you need to be prepared to walk away.
- 1:00:49 Ben: In the chat room, John said, “This is all predicated on the assumption that both parties are mature adults who know how to resolve conflict,” but that’s not always the case.
If someone is being unreasonable, it doesn’t mean you have to stay and endure the situation.
- 1:01:11 Sean: The situation may not go the way you want—they may not be a mature adult, you may not get the outcome you desire, the situation may not be salvageable, or the other person may not be willing to reason or compromise. These are realities. You’re not going to be able to argue with everyone until there’s a conclusion. Some people just want to argue and sometimes you have to be willing to walk away. If the job you have isn’t going to do something about the problematic situation you brought up, you need to be willing to walk away. You have to decide what’s important to you.
- 1:02:04 If you have a neighbor that’s playing music, that’s one thing, but if you have harassment at work, you shouldn’t just say, “This person isn’t a mature adult that’s willing to resolve this conflict so I’m doomed to remaining in this situation.” Sometimes your responsibility is to walk away. You did your job. You set aside time for the conversation, heard the other person, listened to them, presented your case, and they were unreasonable, rude, immature, or nonnegotiable. That doesn’t mean you need to stay in a work environment where you’re being harassed or in a relationship that’s toxic.
- 1:02:53 Ben: Don’t let yourself feel powerless in the face of those kinds of things.
Sometimes, what you might lose in walking away from a situation is far less than you’ll loose in the long-run if you stay.
6. Be Open to Resolutions Outside What You Envisioned
- 1:03:28 Sean: This can actually be a good thing. There can be resolutions you didn’t even think of that would otherwise be agreeable to you, but if you’re closed to them, you could miss out on something. It may not even be a compromise, but it could be something totally different that you didn’t think of. You assumed they were going to react a certain way and played out the whole scenario and you’re dead-set on one outcome, when really they could be coming from a totally different place and if you’re not open to other resolutions, you could miss an opportunity to resolve it.