Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

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When a person who has agreed to a behavioral change does not follow through, the ability to confront that person with compassion is essential. No matter how justified your anger, a hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more frustration and distance.

The goal of a compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. Starting with this kind of dialogue is far more effective than letting your anger take over.

Arrange a Meeting

It is important to avoid simply jumping into a difficult conversation. You will be much more effective if you arrange a meeting with the following parameters in mind:

1. The meeting takes place in a safe place,

2. With adequate time for full discussion,

3. Without other people or the children around,

4. Not right before going to bed, and

5. Not when either of you is exhausted, has been drinking, or is hungry.

Ask the other person to agree to two conditions:

1. To give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you will leave before the time is up, and

2. To avoid attacking each other and interrupting. If you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, let’s do this without attacking or interrupting each other, like we agreed.”

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and to convey that you want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you will need to have a full understanding of what’s going on. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what they are saying. It is crucial not to take things personally when they speak from a position of fear.

Communications Professor Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it has a damaging effect on dialogue. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation. In fact, you will often be surprised by the the other person’s point of view.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects both of us.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t shut down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of their view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

To neutralize the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion, take the negative content and re-frame it without the negative emotion. Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel annoyed by the way I approach you when you come home.”

Your Point of View

Once you have gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if they will listen to your perspective. Again keep it neutral and descriptive so as to gain their understanding. Keep it calm and brief.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves and each other.

Solution

Do not rush to solve a problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes to reality. But first it is crucial to find out what the other person’s reality really is.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.


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“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

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