How to Turn Confrontation Into Comprehension

I loved the moment in the ITV debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn when they suggested leaving a pot of damson jam and a copy of “A Christmas Carol” for each other under the Christmas tree. The room broke into mellow laughter and peace and goodwill were restored, despite what had been a fairly fierce debate about serious issues between two big personalities.

Corbyn and Johnson did pretty well but sometimes meetings can go off plan when there are assertive personalities present whose agenda is far from hidden. How do you stick to your guns, saying yes and no to the right things, remaining in control of your emotions and most importantly, maintaining respect for the other person? What about those feelings of disempowerment and frustration with someone whose behaviour “makes” us feel as if we are losing control and slipping into a negative emotional response? Is our response to other people really a choice that we can make every time?

Many people claim to be “naturally bad” at dealing with confrontation and shy away from locking horns with people who are “naturally good” or confident in confrontational situations. It’s true that our personality might give us the inclination to respond a certain way instinctively, (fight or flight) but it’s not an excuse to keep doing so. We can learn to adapt and keep our emotions in a positive place and our communication equable.

The professional theatre offers a great model for teamwork even though not everyone likes each other or gets on “naturally” and yet, strong, talented and different people work together tightly to get the show on the road.

How can this be achieved? Well, one answer is to sign up for our YouBrand or Practice room courses in which all of the coaches have worked as professionals in theatre and/or film. We specialise in helping people get the best possible outcome every time they communicate.

In the meantime, one thing that can be done is to adjust our attitude. I’m not saying that anyone who gets angry or emotional has a bad attitude. Absolutely not. We do have the option to choose an empowering attitude though…

1. How to have the right attitude towards ourselves.

It’s worth asking the question as to what is really driving our response when emotion starts to take over and we feel powerless to stop it. Is there anything we can do to negate these feelings?

Berne’s psychoanalytical writings of the 1950s identified three different ego states (how I feel on the inside and how it makes me act), namely parent, child and adult. We can learn to choose “adult”, so that the behaviour of others, even if it reminds us of past negative emotion, no longer has the same effect on us. Staying in “adult” is an art that can be learnt.

We may approach certain kinds of interaction (like confrontation for instance) with a negative script playing in our heads… e.g. “You’re no good at this, remember what happened the last time?” The truth is that our body language and how we sound will communicate how we are feeling about ourselves even if we don’t verbalise it. We can learn to approach difficult or challenging situations with positive esteem towards ourselves. Rather than listening to that negative script, we can learn to speak positively to and about ourselves.

2. How to have the right attitude towards others.

We can only take responsibility for 50% of the behaviour in an interaction- our half. If we make the focus of our interactions the wellbeing and comfort of the other person/people that’s a great start for a positive exchange, whatever the outcome.

E.g. If you’re chairing the meeting you can set the tone by allowing everyone to say something before you launch into “business”. You are tacitly communicating that everyone’s contribution is important.

We can learn to take people at face value rather than prejudging them according to how they behaved in a previous encounter and how it made you feel.

If someone does say something that riles you always seek understanding of the other person. You are sorry that they feel the way that they do. Perhaps they could clarify what they meant by XYZ… Other people’s emotions are their issue, not yours.

It might come as a relief to know that we can prepare ourselves emotionally before communicating and that it is possible to have an attitude change towards ourselves and others. How we come across in our conversations and our meetings has a big influence on how we are perceived by people. We can learn to perform authentically and consistently (well!) using the skills and methods taught by our professional coaches here at Personal Presentation.

Anyone can learn to master the art of great communication.