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Does Confrontation Make Matters Better or Worse?

MsDora, former teacher and Certified Christian Counselor shares tips for smooth relationships with friends and for encounters with strangers

Does confrontation make matters better or worse?

Does confrontation make matters better or worse?

Have you ever initiated a confrontation, hoping for a change in attitude and behavior, but acquired a severed relationship instead?

It could be the rideshare friend who makes you wait more often than not or the neighbor who picks your choicest flowers without asking permission. It could be the sister who lies blatantly and constantly or the brother who touches inappropriately. None of these behaviors is acceptable, and confrontation becomes necessary, but with what result? There are three basic characteristics of a confrontation that, heeded (or unheeded) in the process, can help to provide an effective (or ineffective) outcome. These three basics are:

  1. The Intent
  2. The Method
  3. The Conclusion
Confrontation is about reconciliation, not judgement.

Confrontation is about reconciliation, not judgement.

1. The Intent

  • “Remember, confrontation is about reconciliation and awareness, not judgement or anger.” ― Dale Partridge, author and pastor

The goal of confrontation (according to June Hunt, author, award-winning broadcaster, and counselor for more than 25 years) is to expose bad behavior, point out the consequences, and solicit efforts for change. The goal is not to victimize or demonize the wrongdoer (although that outcome may seem appropriate for some disgusting behaviors). Neither is the goal for the initiator to get even or to establish a self-righteousness stance. These and similar selfish intents may cause the guilty person to defend himself against social and emotional ruin, by throwing stones at the perceived attacker. Disrespect and hostility, among other negative attitudes, may be the result of an ill-intentioned confrontation.

If the transgressor perceives that the intent of the conversation is not to fight her but to help her fight and defeat her problem, the result would more likely be effective. Such an outcome begins with the confronter’s spirit of compassion and forgiveness, with a genuine interest in the other person’s development.

2. The Method

  • “Confrontation should be a conduit through which you express concern, empathy, and love for another person. Watch your tone; be careful not to come off as holier-than-thou.” ―Emily Lash, licensed professional counselor

An angry outburst at the person caught in a wrong act may be understandable, but not helpful as a way to begin a confrontation. It is better to wait until the anger subsides. From the following three methods, pick the most appropriate one for the situation.

A. The Question

One meaningful method (among others) can begin with a question, which does not criticize or condemn.

  • “Is there some kind of inconvenience which causes you to be late sometimes?” is better than “Do you realize that when you’re late, you mess up my schedule for the entire day?”

An appropriate question gives the individual an opportunity to reflect on the gravity of his fault. It allows him to offer information that the confronter does not have. It requires the confronter to listen. It helps to create an understanding, which might even result in an offer of help.

B. The Story

An alternative method to the question could be a story, highlighting a situation similar to that under consideration, and ending with a solution that could be helpful. It should be so easy to make comparisons with the present situation, that the guilty person readily sees himself in the story; realizes that he is not alone in his shortcoming; decides that if positive change can happen in the story, it can happen in his case.

C. The Sandwich

Still, another method suggested by counselors, is the “sandwich” or a three-layer approach. The top layer of the sandwich is an expression of appreciation or commendation, which boosts the individual’s sense of worth, and let him know that he is valuable. The middle layer is the meat: the discussion of the problem, which is less threatening than it would be, if the individual did not realize his worth. The bottom layer is some form of encouragement about how great an asset the individual may become, not only at work but in a wider sphere.

Show genuine interest in the other person’s development.

Show genuine interest in the other person’s development.

3. The Conclusion

  • "Avoiding difficult conversations doesn’t make them go away, and having them can substantially improve our work and home lives." ―Erin Eatough, PhD

Confrontation is not aimed at changing people, but at changing behavior. It is wise for both parties to express an understanding of the changes that are to be expected. Don’t take it personally, if the outcome is not exactly what was intended. Expressions of forgiveness for past misbehaviors and support for improvement going forward, is an asset to a long-term outcome. Following up or checking in could be arranged, if necessary, to show continuing interest in good results.

Each confrontation has the potential to make matters better if the intent aims for positive change in the other person. It can make matters worse if there is a selfish, hidden agenda.

Change is more likely to be accepted if presented with kind words and gentle voice. It is less likely to happen if a clash of wills turns up the heat, and the heat turns into fire.

Confrontations are a part of life. The more we do them, the more we understand them. The more we understand them, the more we learn to manage them into making our lives better.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dora Weithers