Year of Resilience Tip 6: Confront Relationship Challenges
The thought of confrontation escalates stress in most people. Learning the skills of productive confrontation gives you a framework for lowering difficult conversations. Challenging issues become less stressful when you learn to navigate them proactively. The tip this week is to confront relationship challenges.
Why Does Confrontation Create Stress?
There is a small group of people who navigate confrontation with ease and some even relish it and create it. But for most of us, it is as fear-inducing as public speaking.
Why does confrontation make us tremble so much? Most confrontations contain an element of benefit to us. Something isn’t right with a team member’s performance and it is causing extra work or a drop in our own metrics. Correcting or challenging the behavior would benefit both of us. Perhaps someone is doing something that is dramatically diminishing our ability to get work done. Addressing the issue has the potential for putting us back on track.
Even though we could benefit greatly by addressing issues, we often procrastinate or bury our heads in the sand hoping the problem will disappear.
Unfortunately, the reality of the potential confrontation hangs over us and silently drains energy from our psyche. The longer we postpone addressing the issue the deeper the problem usually grows and our stress levels continue to rise
Postponing confrontation has the effect of chronic stress, imagining negative outcomes rather than a positive resolution, and with each hour and day we delay, the stress chips away at our resilience.
We postpone and fear confrontation because:
Fear rejection or criticism.
Deep down we wonder if the confrontation will reveal our inadequacies or mistake. Perhaps the problem we see in others is due to our shortcomings or leadership deficiencies.
The fear of damaging relationships
We spend more time with team members and colleagues than we do with close friends or family. Those relationships matter and have often developed over years. Because most of us enjoy being liked, we worry that being honest about issues might damage the relationships we worked so hard to build and value.
The fear of losing control or creating conflict
What if we sense a problem, but by confronting the issue we make it bigger than it was or we create conflict out of thin air? As we take steps to correct, everything spins out of control. These escalating thoughts paralyze us and keep us from discovering what is real or imagined.
The fear of the unknown outcome
Because we can’t predict the future, most of us imagine all kinds of potential circumstances when we sense a potential confrontation is on the horizon. Most of us assume the negative and that stops us in our tracks and no process to resolution is made.
Fear is a major stressor for all of us triggering internal fight or flight responses. By giving in to fear we drive up our stress levels. The only way out is through being comfortable with confrontation. Even if the confrontation is a moment of stress, it’s an immediate stress, unlike the chronic stress of waiting to address a necessary issue.
How to become comfortable with confrontation?
1. Think clarity not confrontation
Reframe the way you think about confrontation. Your intent is not conflict but understanding. Many times what we perceive as negative is easily resolved but helping yourself and the other person become clear on what is happening.
2. Prepare and practice what to say
Roleplaying always helps with performance. When you give a speech or presentation, practicing beforehand creates confidence in the material and gives a sense of comfort in knowing you are prepared. If you’ve ever done any sales, you are well aware that practicing your sales presentation and roleplaying objection handling makes the behavior almost automatic when you are in a real-life situation.
Frameworks and templates can be just as beneficial in becoming adept at difficult conversations. Especially when you borrow from time-tested conversation best practices you increase your ability. Conversation frameworks are at the heart of the Fierce methodology and have transformed the ability of managers and leaders to become adept at difficult conversations.
3. Focus on the issue, not the person
Depersonalizing confrontation immediately diffuses potential negative reactions. Again you seek to understand the issue at hand. You are not trying to point out deficiencies in the person. By focusing on the issues you protect their identity. For many of us, our identity is deeply wrapped up in our performance and behavior. When we feel those items being attacked it is hard not to take them personally.
When you become comfortable with conversations, you immediately diffuse one of the major stressors of the modern workplace. Delaying or avoiding will only diminish your resilience and energy and make you less effective when confrontation becomes unavoidable.
Becoming adept at confrontation will improve your overall communication skills. You will create deeper relationships with your colleagues through open and honest discussions.
4. Remain calm and avoid escalation
If you feel high levels of anger or frustration before a difficult conversation, give yourself a chance to calm down. The other party will sense your negative energy and immediately erect their defenses. You can almost guarantee a negative outcome if you enter a conversation with this state of emotion.
Take a moment to breathe and relax. Consider all the potential issues and begin reframing the situation. Assume the positive intent of the other party and that you might be misunderstanding what is happening.
5. Listen actively and acknowledge the other person’s perspective.
Even if you practiced the conversation beforehand with successful frameworks, you must maintain empathy and self-awareness. Yes, you do have an agenda and points that need to be communicated, but allow the other person to talk and explain the situation from their perspective.
Use open-ended questions to draw out as much information as possible. Once you believe you have a good understanding, restate your understanding and get agreement from the other person. This may take more than one pass to obtain full awareness. Wait until you come to a common agreement on the situation before you move forward to what needs to be changed.
Because you have honored the other person’s perspective, you have earned (in their eyes) the right to express your request.