Management and Constructive Confrontation
by Gregg Walker
Department of Speech Communication
Oregon State University
Thjis material is adapted from: Johnson,
David W. (1990). Reaching Out, 4th ed. Englewood Cliffs,
We respond to conflicts by confronting,
accommodating, or avoiding. Both accommodation and avoidance are
passive, Confrontation can be aggressive and competitive, or assertive
and collaborative. The latter approach is generally the most constructive.
A confrontation is the direct expression
of one's view (thoughts and feelings) of the conflict situation and an
invitation for the other party to express her or his views of the conflict.
To Confront or Not
Describing behavior and one's reactions to
Clarifying and exploring issues in the conflict
(substantive, relational, procedural).
The nature and strength of the parties' interests,
needs, and concerns.
Disclosure of relevant feelings.
Generally the decision to confront is based
on the following factors:
The nature of the relationship. The greater
the relationship's importance, the more meaningful the confrontation.
The nature of the issues. The more significant
the issues, the greater the potential benefit from confrontation.
The ability of the other party to act on the
confrontation. If the other party's anxiety level is high or motivation/ability
to change is low, confrontation will likely fail.
Do not "hit and run." Confront when there
is sufficient time to share views about the conflict and schedule a conflict
Communicate openly and directly your perceptions
of, and feelings about, the issues in the conflict. Try to do so
in minimally threatening ways. Focus your concerns on the issues
and the other party's behavior, not on the other party's character or personality.
Comprehend as completely as possible the other
person's views of, and feelings about, the conflict.
Value disagreement over the issues and the
opportunity to work through that disagreement. Disagreement should
be communicated in a manner consistent with acceptance of the other person.
Do not demand change. You may request
and negotiate changes in behavior but do not demand them. Demanding
changes constructive confrontation into forcing.
Invite the other person to confront you about
your behavior. Reciprocal confrontations can balance power in the
situation and lead to higher quality conflict management efforts.
Don't preach to or interpret for the other
person. Share your interpretations while inviting a collaborative
approach to improving the situation.
A confrontation about actions should be
specific and timely. It should be conducted in a way that helps the
other party examine the consequences of her/his behavior rather than causing
her/him to defend her/his actions. Communicate:
More precisely, these
steps involve using a number of "communication competence skills" (see
Competence Skills materials on this web site for more information),
Your observation of the other person's behavior
Your reaction to that behavior.
Your interpretation of what that behavior means.
Your desire to increase your understanding
of the person's behavior.
Your concerns about that behavior and its possible
Personal statements or "I" messages.
"I am concerned about", "I am confused by", "My worry is", "I am frustrated
by" are all personal statements.
Relationship statements. These are "I"
messages about some aspect of the relationship. "I appreciate your
consulting with me on . . ." is a relationship statement.
Behavior descriptions. These are statements
describing observed actions.
Direct description of your feelings.
Feelings descriptions are personal statements of feelings focused on yourself,
rather than vague expressions of feeling.
Understanding and interpreting. Use questions
for clarifying and paraphrasing to check understanding before indicating
how you are interpreting and reacting to the behavior.
Perception checks. Communicate what you
perceive the other person to be feeling or thinking.
Provide and invite concrete feedback.