Confronting is an essential negotiation, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skill. Being confrontational, though, will usually do you more harm than help. Here’s a mediator’s tip for how to confront someone and raise an issue for discussion without being aggressive or argumentative.
When I want to confront someone about a concern but don’t want to come across as confrontational, I pull out this tool from my mediator’s toolbox:
Say what you’re seeing and check it out.
“Say what you’re seeing” means making an observation without loading it full of junk — diagnoses, judgments, and the like. It’s naming and/or describing a behavior or circumstance that’s bothering you.
“Check it out” means finding out if what you’re noticing is accurate, what’s behind it, and the like. It’s about checking out your observations before jumping to conclusions about them.
Translated into language you can use, the approach uses this phrasing:
Here’s what I’m noticing…and here’s what I’m wondering…
“Here’s what I’m noticing” is a simple, straightforward, yet considerate way to be transparent about what’s on your mind.
I like and use this phrasing because it doesn’t come across like a statement of fact, label, or diagnosis. Those are apt to put someone on the defensive, after all. Instead,it’s just you wondering out loud and willing to be disproved.
Keep it short and sweet, because the longer you go on, the less it seems like a wondering aloud and the more it seems like a tirade. One sentence is enough. You can go into detail later.
“…And here’s what I’m wondering” is a gentle invitation, one that’s kind and direct at the same time. It’s not a demand or an ultimatum, and it discloses what’s on your mind without calling someone on the carpet.
Keep this short and sweet, too. Before you open your mouth, get clear on what you’re wondering and how you can say it succinctly. Make sure you’re not abusing the idea by using it to cast aspersions (“I’m wondering why you’re a jerk”), blame (“I’m wondering why you can never take responsibility”), or diagnose (“I’m wondering why you’re so passive-aggressive with me”).
If you’re a mediator or coach…
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