How to Calmly Confront Someone Without Losing Your Mind
When it comes to situations that people fear the most, confronting someone has to be right up there with public speaking and paying taxes.
Confrontation, by its very nature, is a clash.
It's an encounter of two opposing forces.
It's especially bad if you have anxiety, which I do.
Difficult conversations and confrontations still make my insides churn, but I've gotten so much better at them over the years.
And it all comes down to the approach.
If you want to know how to confront someone the right way--keep reading.
You'll learn what to do--and what NOT to do.
There's a method to this confrontation madness.
My Terrifying Confrontation Failure With the Peace Corps
One of the biggest confrontations of my life was when I was in the Peace Corps in Central America.
I was placed in a tiny Mayan village that didn't speak Spanish, and the Peace Corps didn't bother to train me in the Mayan language spoken in that area.
In fact, the town hadn't even requested a Peace Corps Volunteer, I later learned.
It was a privileged, high-minded volunteer from another site that put in the paperwork.
So...what ended up happening is that I was placed in a site that was not expecting me and really had no idea why I was there.
In the midst of this Peace Corps bureaucratic failure, I ended up living in a tiny hut with up to 16 family members at one point.
I was sick for five months, lost 30 pounds, and my skin turned yellow.
I asked my boss for help, but he just told me, "I don't want people who complain. I want people who get things done."
I pleaded with the Peace Corps staff and explained that they weren't even following their own guidelines to place volunteers in sites that were prepared to have them there.
Still, my boss, who was native to that country and the longest-serving Peace Corps employee in that country, had a pretty sweet gig.
He was making lots of money and allegedly getting kickbacks from placing volunteers in certain sites around the country.
I roughed it out for five months at that site.
I found two people who could teach me this Mayan language, one of whom required that I take a bus three hours to meet her. I needed to take Immodium just to make the trip because of how sick I was every day.
Eventually, I got a meeting with the Big Boss Man back at Peace Corps Headquarters, which is where my fateful confrontation took place.
Now, I should back up and say that what I'm about to tell you is NOT the right way to go about a confrontation.
I was young--23 years old--and I badly wanted to stay in the Peace Corps because it had been a dream of mine for many years.
So when I got my meeting with this boss who looked like a cartoon character Big Boss in a video game, complete with exaggerated big nose and mustache, I was not thinking clearly.
The meeting with my boss started off alright, though.
We exchanged pleasantries, and he told me how smart and capable he thought I was. He told me that this is why he put me in the toughest site he had.
This is when it started to go wrong.
I again pleaded my case, something I had been doing over and over to him and other Peace Corps directors for months at this point.
I explained that, in all seriousness, only a handful of people in the town could speak Spanish. I actually was teaching THEM Spanish at this point.
I set up a Spanish class for the children and was providing classes at night. Turns out, the Spanish levels were so low, the town turned out mainly to see a goofy foreigner stand up in front of them. It was actually pretty hilarious now that I think about it.
I told him that the living situation that the Peace Corps promised had not yet materialized.
I explained that I had no way to cook for myself and that sometimes all I would get for breakfast was one egg.
I said that the money required to go to my host family for food seemed to be going towards buying very expensive hammocks.
He ignored everything I said and again encouraged me to use my brains and not complain.
This is when I said something pretty stupid:
"You know what? You would never send your daughter to this site."
This set him off.
His face turned bright red, and he started to yell at me. He was very fond of his daughter and talked about the private schools she went to and how much she was accomplishing.
A battle ensued, which eventually culminated in me saying, "You need to give me a site change. This is NOT right. You aren't following your own rules."
He literally screamed at the top of his lungs:
You are NOT getting a site change!!
At this point, something broke inside of me and tears started to well up in my eyes and then stream down my cheeks.
Seeing this, his tone softened and he said, "Oh, you seem to have mental problems. You might want to talk to someone about this."
I had nothing left in me. I didn't even respond.
Deep down, I knew my Peace Corps dream was over and that I would be leaving early.
I quietly responded and quickly ended the meeting.
I didn't get what I want, largely because this wasn't a healthy confrontation by any means.
How to Confront Someone and Express Negative Feelings in a Healthy Way
Why did I just share all that with you?
Why did I tell you a story about the wrong way to confront someone?
I did it because we often learn more from the wrong way than the right way.
This is at the heart of learning from failure.
It was from this showdown--and many more that followed throughout my twenties--that I learned the importance of managing my feelings during a tough conversation.
What NOT to Do During a Confrontation
1. Do not go into the confrontation aiming to prove a point or unleash your most potent feeling on the other person
2. Do not prepare for the conflict like you are going to war
3. Do not mentally prepare the advice in your head that you will so wonderfully bestow on the unwitting party
Doing all this will only lead to an emotionally charged battle like the one I had with my Peace Corps boss.
What to Do During a Confrontation
1. Do prepare for the confrontation by collecting as much information as you can. There's a difference between being prepared and being ready to attack your opponent with a vengeance.
2. Do list all the feelings you are having about this other person. Knowing how you're feeling is important--you just don't want your feelings to boil over when you're trying to reach a mutually beneficial resolution.
3. Do understand that there will be conflict--but that you don't need to be an attacker. There are ways to share your feelings and information without putting other people down.
4. During the confrontation, do share your truth as calmly and clearly as possible.
5. Don't respond to low-blows and cheap shots from the other person. This does not serve you and will only make you stoop to their level.
The difference between how I handled confrontation in my twenties and how I handle it now comes down to empathy.
Even with people I consider vile and repulsive at times, I search for what we have in common.
I do my best to empathize with at least one thing they're going through.
You can do this, too.
This is within your reach.
But like anything, it takes practice.
I still don't love confrontation, and I doubt I ever will.
But I can say, without a shred of doubt, I can now manage conflict in a calm, rational way.
I don't always get what I want.
But I control how I act.
And that allows me to live a life of integrity and, more importantly, sleep through the night.