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Confronting confrontation

by HARVEY MACKAY
| May 7, 2023 1:00 AM

Violet is chasing Charlie Brown in a "Peanuts" cartoon yelling, "It's no use running! I'll get you! I'll knock your block off!"

Charlie then turns around and says, "Wait a minute! Hold everything! We can't carry on like this! We have no right to act this way … The world is filled with problems … People hurting other people … People not understanding other people … Now, if we, as children, can't solve what are relatively minor problems, how can we ever expect to …"

In the next frame Violet punches Charlie Brown and explains to her friend, "I had to hit him quick … He was beginning to make sense!"

Unlike most of us, Violet clearly is not afraid of confrontation. I suspect that most people would prefer to avoid confrontation. It is more in our nature to get out of the way.

NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who saw his share of confrontation on the field, said, "I don't like confrontation." He's on Team Charlie Brown.

But NFL coaching great Bill Parcells disagrees, saying, "I think confrontation is healthy, because it clears the air very quickly." Score one for Team Violet.

Confrontations can be difficult, but they are a very essential aspect of relationships. The most essential aspect of confrontation is honest communication, clarity and confession.

When confrontation is handled properly, it establishes clear lines of communication. It should never be about punishing or humiliating people. You want to express yourself without blaming others.

Duke University basketball Hall-of-Famer Mike Krzyzewski said, "Confrontation simply means meeting the truth head-on."

It starts with overcoming your fear of confrontation. Most of us think of confrontation in negative terms — people who are assertive, aggressive, hostile and so on. We're focused on the outcome instead of the issues. One of the best ways to overcome your fear of confrontation is to prepare for it. What do you want to say? Think about what you want to accomplish from the conversation. What is your goal? Do you want to make a specific point?

If you enter any confrontation in attack mode, chances are you're not going to get a satisfactory result.

Glenn Van Ekeren in his book "Little Leadership Lessons … From an Old Guy" outlines some simple yet profound considerations he has found useful that I would like to expound on.

Be factual. Do you have the complete story, including the other side? If not, ask and then listen. Avoid rumors and perceptions.

Be fair. Confrontation is not a ticket for personal attack. It should always be about the issues. Accept responsibility if you were in the wrong. Don't make it into a competition. Look for solutions together. Keep in control of your emotions.

Be firm and honest. Too often, people hide their feelings and bite their tongue because they don't want to offend anyone. It's the wrong approach. Tell it as you see it — with tact and compassion. People will appreciate your honesty.

Be respectful and polite. Be approachable, pleasant and nonargumentative. Let people know you appreciate and care about them. Be calm. Don't lose your cool. I repeat, don't make it personal.

If all else fails and the other person isn't willing to have a constructive conversation, it's OK to simply walk away and revisit things at a later time, when both parties have had time to mull things over.

Of course, there are occasions when immediate action is required, as illustrated by this story. This fanciful legend is told as the transcript of a radio transmission between two different naval operators.

OPERATOR 1: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south, to avoid a collision.

OPERATOR 2: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.

01: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.

02: WE ARE A LARGE NAVAL VESSEL ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, I SAY AGAIN, THAT IS 15 DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTERMEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.

O1: We are a lighthouse. Your call.

Mackay's Moral: You can't change what you refuse to confront.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website, www.harveymackay.com, by emailing harvey@mackay.com or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.