Getting the Guards Down

We all tend to come to situations where we need to communicate with someone about something, and it’s also possible that it could start a fight or turn into something that could have been avoided; becoming a bigger deal than it really needed to be. Also, causing defenses to be put up and getting nowhere with the confrontation.

You can run into these situations with your coworkers, family, and friends. In this instance, this can be applied to basically any situation.


I do a few things when approaching a confrontation because situations can escalate quickly and most people don’t like confrontation. Here are techniques I try to use that I’ve found some success with:

1. Is it your problem or an avoidable situation?

There can be a big difference between feeling angry because you had a rough day and now everything going on is annoying you, and the other possibility being we need to cut back on expenses because we’re tight and need to start saving more money.

An avoidable situation can be fixed with a plan of action. This one, yes definitely confront the person and figure out what the deal is and what you both can do. Look at both sides of the story.

Now, there are some situations that you can’t do anything about, this is a you-situation. Let me give you a story example:

We had a friend living with us as a roommate. He started dating someone, we will call her J. She stayed with him at our house for a time, and it was okay. I’m picky about my house though, I like a calm, relaxing atmosphere. She was to me: loud and obnoxious. And I did not like that. I could hardly stand having her at my house.  But, ultimately, she was just being herself and I had a problem with it. It honestly was not a problem to figure out with J because it wasn’t her problem, it was mine. 

2. If it’s avoidable and a plan is needed:

Use an I-Message when starting the conversation.

So, you’ve come to the realization that it is more than just about you. It’s about a situation, a safety concern, your coworker is struggling, your child comes home past curfew, or something more serious. It needs to be communicated. Then you can confront the situation, but point it at yourself to avoid the other person from getting defensive. This is actually called an I-Message.

I learned about this in two places: from a STEP parenting program I used to teach and from a class I took called Crucial Confrontations. I remember three words as a base line:

Feel. Because. When.

I feel overwhelmed when I’m the only one doing the dishes each night because I also have to get the kids ready for bed and I get to bed late.

Use them in any order, but use all three words. This helps to get your point across and provides enough detail to help someone understand what is going on in your mind.

You can follow this up with, “can you help me?” Just, if at all possible, avoid using the word “you” because then it isn’t an I-Message anymore, it’s a you-message. (Those are no-nos if you’re trying to avoid someone being defensive).

Here’s a you-message:

I’m tired each day because you don’t help me with the evening routine of cleaning up and getting the kids to bed.

This definitely points blame and is going to cause defensiveness almost right away!

3. Use reflective listening:

Listen to the other person. How do they feel? Why? 

Reflective listening works after you’ve used an I-Message, and now you’re listening to the other side. Whatever the other person says, you repeat to see if you’ve heard correctly. You’re like a reflection in a mirror. Here’s how it works:

Spouse: I don’t do the dishes in the evening because when I’m done eating I am starting to get tired so I start winding down.

Your reflective listening: So what you’re saying is you’re tired by the time dinner is over and you’re already about ready for bed?

This will help make sure you understand the other perspective clearly, which leads to figuring out the real issue at hand to determine a solution that fits both parties. Miscommunication is common, and reflective listening will help prevent that.

If you’re confronting a coworker I’ve noticed a common fact: they may not know what to do (lack of knowledge). Use reflective listening and I-Messages to get to the bottom of the issue. Be patient (not everyone is a kick-butt employee like you!).

This can also apply to kids (not knowing what to do) like asking them to clean their room, the bathroom, or the kitchen, maybe they don’t know your expectations. Do it with them a few times (secretly showing them how it’s done), and they will eventually understand the routine.

In the end, the only real way to determine both points of view is to have a conversation that doesn’t escalate: start off with an I-Message and use reflective listening. (Who has kids that tell them they are never listened too?! Repeat what they tell you!)

4. Come up with plan:

Figure out the feelings and perspectives of both sides and make a plan so both are happy.

So you’ve shared your feelings and why you feel that way, you’ve listened reflectively and understand the other party as well. Now what?

Well, you don’t want to be the only one doing the evening routine, but your partner wants to start winding down. So plan something. Maybe, while one person is cooking, the other is cleaning the dishes that are being dirtied while cooking. Whenever someone finishes dinner they clean off their own plate so there aren’t so many dishes left over… etc. Whatever the plan is, it is a plan to fit both. Don’t be afraid to compromise! But don’t be the only one compromising every time.

5. If it’s a YOU problem.

You’re angry because you had a rough day and you’re just upset at everyone and everything, not to mention you came home and nothing at home was cleaned or done.

You can still point it at yourself and say, I need help. I’m having a rough day. I’m tired. But it’s really no one’s problem but your’s, and you need to come to an understanding with yourself.

Its okay to tell people how you feel in this situation too, don’t hold it in, but don’t point blame by blaming others for your irrational feelings. You’re the only one who controls how you feel. An I-Message can work here too!


Please comment with any questions, comments, or techniques that have worked for you!


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