Dealing with confrontations #5 Good fences make good neighbors

good-fences-make-good-neighborsBeing able to deal with conflict and confrontations professionally is a critical skill. You need it to deal with colleagues, bosses and clients.

However, many people are not comfortable with confrontations. They avoid them, or tend to overreact. This makes it harder to remain professional. Let’s look at a proven method to become a pro in dealing with confrontations.

What does dealing professionally with confrontations mean?

It means the issue that needs to be resolved between you and the other party is concluded with both parties at a minimum coming out of the confrontation with a result you can both live with. A result that brings both of the parties closer to their goal and closer to each other is of course preferable. But let’s start with ‘livable’. Discussion should be rational, and deal with the issue. It should never become personal in a negative sense.

When is dealing professionally with confrontations not possible?

Dealing with confrontations professionally is not possible if you:

  • Tend to avoid confrontations on the one hand, or
  • Go into a confrontation with excessive force on the other hand.

Both of these behaviors make you lose your power to deal with a confrontation professionally and effectively.

What do you need to deal with a confrontation professionally?

You know about the alleged power of the Bermuda triangle to let ships disappear. Like this, there is a confrontation Barracuda triangle, which has an equivalent capacity to make your power to act professionally disappear. (We mentioned this earlier in blog #4 of this series: Catching the Frisbee).

The Barracuda in the triangle appears only when you don’t assign limits. This omission gives the shark the capability to suck away your natural ability to deal with all kinds of situations. The proof for this ability is that you are very capable outside the Barracuda triangle.

So what is it that you actually do outside the triangle, where you are able to act professionally?

  • You have assigned limits.

Since these are limits you share with others as part of  ‘common behavior’, you don’t experience conflict. At the very moment you do experience a conflict, the limits are not mutual anymore. Hence the right thing to do is to (re-)assign limits that you both agree on.

What happens when you have no mutually agreed limits?

A limit is a boundary, something that marks off your ‘territory’ from that of someone else. As the saying goes:

Good fences make good neighbors

Essentially this is what assigning limits regarding confrontations also means. You stake out what is important to you. The other person does the same. Now you look for a way to make this work together.

Let’s take it literally for a moment, and look at the limits between two fields. You have a field to plow and grow clover. The other person has a field for his cows to graze. There are no agreed limits between the fields. The conflict is about the cows eating your emerging shoots.

What do you do? Let them eat the shoots because you can’t deal with confrontations? Kill the cows? To put it to extremes these are to two utmost sides of the range of dealing with the problem of a confrontation. They correspond to avoiding the conflict or responding with excessive force. Neither is positive, neither is effective.

The solution to dealing with confrontations professionally

The proper solution is to assign limits and have a boundary that is suitable to you both. Both of you need access to your fields. Both of you need an economical solution.

What you do (here as well as in other ‘real life’ confrontational situations) is find a boundary that is applicable to the situation and doesn’t inhibit achieving the primary goal.

Find a boundary you can agree on and align it with each other’s goals and objectives. Forget the purpose and values, however much they are part of the confrontation and its emotions. The values and purposes you earn in time by experiencing this approach works and the Barracuda disappears.

This approach allows you to set limits, thus avoiding you get sucked into the Barracuda triangle. Experiment with this approach, and you will become a pro at dealing with confrontations professionally.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching:

When you need to deal with confrontations professionally, we can help you prepare and hone your skills. Feel free to check if a conversation with us would be useful to you.

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Dealing with confrontations and handling conflict professionally is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

Deal with difficult confrontations at work easily: Catch the Frisbee


Conflicts and Confrontations, while part of professional life, are experienced as unpleasant at the least, unwanted, and sometimes plain difficult.

What is it that makes some confrontations difficult? How can you make dealing with difficult confrontations easier, or at least doable?

To make something easy, you first have to understand the process of how it became difficult. To understand a process, it helps to see the process in abstract terms. Below, we’ll do just that.

We will show you:

  • what usually happens in the ‘run-up’ to confrontations,
  • how that makes some confrontations potentially difficult to deal with, and
  • how you can learn to use this knowledge to handle confrontations in a professional and successful manner.

What happens in the ‘run-up’ to confrontations

There are two separate parts that make up a confrontation. You’ve got both parties in the confrontation, and also the interaction or confrontation itself. Interpret this last part as an actual ‘thing’ going back and forth between the persons in the confrontation, like e.g. a Frisbee.

Now we’ll introduce what happens in the ‘run-up’ to the actual confrontation. To do this, it helps to make a time line. Literally, draw a line. In the middle is the moment of the confrontation. Left is the time when you became aware of the ‘Frisbee’ coming at you. Then there’s the moment where it became a confrontation for you. (We ignore the other person’s intentions here, because this is about you learning to deal with difficult confrontations.)

What triggers you into feeling confronted?confrontations4-catch-frisbee

Somewhere along the left part of the line you drew is the moment where ‘something’ triggered you into experiencing a confrontation with all the corresponding emotions. Again, we ignore the other person’s intention and action. That person only throws the Frisbee at you. The ‘corresponding emotions’ differ from situation to situation, of course, and from person to person.

The actual meaning we give to a confrontation is very specific, with individually different reasoning and supporting arguments. This very individual interpretation of the confrontation is precisely what directs the attention away from mutual understanding. Instead it leads to us demanding our own right.

Naturally your position and needs should be satisfactorily discussed. However, this has the most favorable chance of success when you understand your own ‘complex of feeling confronted’ first.

Do you deal with confrontations professionally?

Once the Frisbee of confrontation comes at you, and you are triggered into experiencing confrontation, your reaction falls into two possible categories:

  1. You see the ‘Frisbee’ coming and are able to deal with it professionally. These are the ‘easy’ confrontations.
  2. You see the ‘Frisbee’ coming and you have difficulty with dealing with it.

What makes difficult confrontations, difficult

Those confrontations you have difficulty with obviously present a problem. They leave you feeling powerless to act as you’d like to – professional, mature, and able to come to a mutual understanding. In our experience, most of the confrontations that are experienced as difficult fall into a range of three points, forming a triangle.

You know about the alleged power of the Bermuda triangle to let ships disappear. Like this, there is a confrontation Barracuda triangle, which has an equivalent capacity to make your power to act disappear.

The points that make up this ‘Barracuda triangle’ are these:

  • You are ignored or reduced to one aspect.

(As, for instance, your excellent advice is ignored because you are not perceived as someone who has valuable advice to give on that matter).

  • You are pushed aside or devalued.

(As, for instance, you were passed over for a promotion you think you deserve, or your opinion is not asked in certain matters).

  • You are forced to do something you don’t want.

(As, for instance, having to fire someone, or giving negative feedback, even when deserved).

The range of this ‘Barracuda triangle’ is characterized by one thing: rejection. That is, rejection of who you are and what you stand for, or the fear of rejection by the person you are giving a negative message.

Over and over again research worldwide shows that people dread all aspects of rejection. It is one of our basic ‘fears’. We all have our different reactions to this ‘fear’ – ranging from attack to defense. One thing is certain however. When rejection comes into play, we usually become unable to see the ‘Frisbee’ for what it really is. We react to the feeling of rejection, not to the actual confrontation.

confrontations4-catch-frisbeeReframing the difficult confrontation and what it means to you

However, once you know and understand what triggers you into experiencing a confrontation as difficult, you get the possibility of reframing the meaning of the confrontation and detecting how to redirect it to what you need.

Of course, you still have to deal with the emotions that were triggered by the Barracuda triangle. But you no longer need to disappear in it. You can learn how to deal with those emotions, see them for what they are, and move on to the real issue at hand. That issue is: what do you want to come out of this situation, and how do you get that in a professional manner?

Picture this learning process as if a child or an adolescent must do something that is new and beyond the normal routine, like going to school for the first time, the first show and tell or e.g. your first driving lesson. Later you learned how to do this. The first time it’s ‘scary’. Those things within the triangle are also scary the first time. But you’ve learned all those other things, haven’t you? (Usually with a little help from you friends… Now there’s an idea.)

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf


This is the 4th in a series of blogs about

dealing with confrontations at work.

The first three are:

#1: The way of the martial Arts

#2: From confrontation to conversation

#3: Fact and fictions hold the key

The Good Career & Life, coaching for professionals:

A prepared coaching conversation with us will show you how you deal with difficult confrontations and ‘catch the Frisbee’ in a professional manner. Feel free to ask us for more information what this could mean for you.

    Contact us

Dealing with difficult confrontations and conflicts at work is a soft skill we coach managers and professionals in.

Dealing with confrontations at work: The key to transforming conflict into agreement

On collision course?

Confrontations at work are a fact of life. Yet dealing with confrontations is not always easy. How do you deal with confrontations at work productively and easily?

In this third article about dealing with confrontations at work we concentrate on the ‘facts’ and ‘fictions’ that drive your response to an actual or imminent confrontation.

The first step in dealing with confrontations is to find out what is actually happening. This allows you to find an appropriate response to any (impending) confrontation at work.

Dealing with confrontations: What is fact and what is fiction?

Confrontations are an actual event (Fact) and an incident that is perceived by you (Fiction) at the same time.

  • What is fact (i.e. actual reality) and more or less measurable?
  • What is fiction (i.e. what we make of it) and qualified by the meaning we attach to it?

Accepting and sharing both the facts and your ‘fictions’ allow a confrontation to be transformed into agreement. Possibly first an agreement about what is fact and what is fiction, and next about what the story could become.

When your fiction seems to be fact

First, an example of fiction interpreted as fact. Imagine driving a two-way mountain road. The route has numerous hairpin bends. You can’t really see what is coming at you. You have to double trust. First trust the drivers coming towards you or passing you, and second, the road itself. Recently we drove on just such a mountainous road somewhere in France for the first time. We were a bit tired, darkness was falling and it was hard to see how the road went. We didn’t drive fast. People behind us got irritated and tried to pass, but couldn’t really, due to the oncoming traffic and the nature of the road. Suddenly, right in front of a sharp bend, (you couldn’t see anything ahead) several cars passed us, going very fast and disappearing round the bend in the road. ‘Are they nuts, what are they doing?’

There you go. We were convinced of their stupidity and drove on very carefully. Luckily there were no cars coming towards us.

Some time later, when we took the same road a second time, we found out that we hadn’t been lucky at all, nor had the other drivers been crazy: the road had split into two separate lanes on both sides of the mountain, and that part was now a double lane. No danger, no stupid other drivers.

Fact or fiction… Are we on collision course?

There is a similarity with confrontations. When someone does something potentially dangerous as e.g. passing you where is it dangerous or driving towards you as if on a collision course, of course you experience this as confrontational. But is this fact or is it fiction? Our interpretation of the event was fiction. A fact is that you (we) experience the symptoms of being confronted; the mental pictures, the emotional impulses, and the physical reflexes. But what part was based actual reality (fact) and what happened because of the meaning we gave to it (fiction)?

What is actually happening?

This is the first step of dealing with confrontations: to explore what is actually happening.First the focus is on you. What can you known and verify of the actual reality? What are the facts? Once you know this, the next step is to assess the meaning the confrontation has for you. What is your perception of the situation and what does this cause?

Take this as an analogy. You are driving somewhere. Suddenly an upcoming car changes lanes, accelerates and drives in a collision course towards you. A collision seems inevitable.

This anticipation of a collision course and our reaction to it is the essence of what a confrontation causes in us. The actual smash-up is not the point, but the apparent risk of imminent danger is.

This must imply that when you base the expectation of an impending collision on a false perception, everything you feel and all you do or don’t do is neither needed nor required. Hence it is of critical importance to assess the reality of your perception. Is there really an impending collision? We continue on the road (as an analogy, that is).

Prevent a ‘collision’: Find the facts

There is this car headed fast right at you. Although there is time to assess and verify what is fact and what is fiction, all of us will anticipate and react as if the collision is a fact before it has happened. Better be safe than sorry of course. So slow down, and make sure you are able to ascertain what is happening really, and attempt to make it measurable.

Within the script of this story you would want to see how the road really goes, and whether there are clarifying traffic signs about the situation. Next you would want to know about the actual distance between you and the other car and the time that was left. All this is more or less fact based.

  • In the case of a confrontation at work, you would have to do the same thing: what are the facts of the case really? How do you make certain all the facts can be ascertained, verified, and shared as facts by all parties?

Prevent a ‘collision’: Explore the fiction

But these facts are not enough to be thorough, because they exclude you and what drives your perception. This is the ‘fiction’ part, the part where your emotions and past experiences color the meaning you give to the facts.

In the case of the impending collision for instance, it would direct your analyses to your past as a driver. Are you experienced, have you been in the same situation before? Has this caused some trauma and changed your behavior?

  • In the case of the confrontation at work, you’d have to do the same thing. Do you have a history with the person(s) you are in confrontation with? Do you have a history with this kind of confrontations? Are you at ease or do you feel disturbed?

Finally, you determine what it all means and qualify its importance. You have sorted out your end of the story.The next step, of course, will be to share your facts and talk about your fictions. As we said above: Accept and share both the facts and the fictions. This allows a confrontation to transform into agreement.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

This is the third in a series of blogs about dealing with confrontations at work. The first two are

1: The way of the martial Arts

2: From confrontation to conversation

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals:

A prepared coaching conversation with us will show you how you can sort your facts and fictions in order to have an appropriate response to (impending) confrontations at work. Feel free to ask us how this could work for you.

    Contact us

Dealing with confrontations and conflicts is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

Handling confrontations: From confrontation to conversation

Confrontation to conversation

Confrontations at work are inevitable. When there’s work to be done, people will have different ideas of how to go about it. Confrontations can be productive or counterproductive, depending on how you handle them. How do you handle confrontations at productively?

In this second article about handling confrontations at work, we’ll show you it is possible to take it from confrontation to conversation by sticking to your own script. You’ll be able to come to an effective solution to the problem that caused the confrontation.

What are we dealing with here?

When you want to deal with something, you act on it. But if you want to deal productively with something, it is imperative you know what it really is and understand the meaning you give to it.

Regarding handling confrontations, this implies you need to know, recognize, and understand what confrontations mean to you generally, and what this particular confrontation means to you specifically.

Every situation has a unique composition of, in film-scene terms, characters, plot, script, mise-en-scène, and suspense. Of course these have a determining impact on you. But who’s calling the shots and who’s writing the script? Until you decide:

  • What confrontations consist of for you,
  • The meaning of this particular confrontation, and
  • What your goal is,

you will not determine what happens – it will happen to you.

Handling confrontation with improvisation

Most people who are uncomfortable or ineffective in handling confrontations focus exclusively on the confrontation itself, as if it is part of the film script. As a consequence, they let the confrontation determine the course of the story.

Yet, in film terms again, the confrontation could also be interpreted as an improvisation where you as one of the actors add your own lines. You might, for instance, stick to your own script.

Why let the confrontation change who you are and diminish your role? It was just an improvisation. Probably they never taught you how to handle these confrontational improvisations at life’s acting school. But they really are, like most other things in life, a lot less difficult once you decide what you want (or, if you like, what your script is). To appreciate this, it is helpful to return to the original meaning of confrontation.

From confrontation to conversation

Confrontation actually means: assigning limits. For a moment see this again in film terms; either the thing (the confrontation) can put ropes around you and restrict you – or you assign checks to the thing (the confrontation) and restrain it.

Instead of letting the confrontation restrain you, you can restrain it. You do this by setting your own terms of handling confrontation. You write your own script. It is feasible to change the meaning you give to it from a confrontation (a thing that can restrain you) into an encounter where people are brought face to face and talk – a conversation.

In this conversation you improvise with the other person(s) to come to a resolution for the subject that provoked the confrontation.

Everybody wins, and without asking for it you are seen as the one who modified a delicate situation. What is more, you will have learned that handling confrontations is possible. You just need to:

  • know what you want (your goal),
  • know what confrontations really are for you,
  • understand the meaning you give to this one,
  • change the meaning from confrontation to conversation,
  • and improvise a solution.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals:

Coaching gives you insight in handling confrontations at work and what you need to be able to handle confrontations productively. Feel free to ask us for more information what this could mean for you.

    Contact us

Handling confrontations and conflicts at work is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

How to deal with confrontations at work: The way of the martial arts

dealing-with-confrontations-martial-arts-wayThis is the first in a series of blogs about dealing with confrontations at work.

Confrontations at work are inevitable. When there’s work to be done, people will have different ideas of how to go about it.

Confrontations at work can be productive or counterproductive, depending on how you deal with them. The aim of this series of blogs is to provide you with ways to deal with confrontations at work productively.

In this first one, we’ll enlarge on how to deal with it when someone at work is confrontational towards you. Instead of making an enemy by being confrontational in turn, we’ll show you the martial arts way of answering confrontations at work productively.

Are you warm enough?

Have you ever held a Mood Ring? The ring reacts to your temperature. The colors show your mood. Black represents tension (low temperature) and the shades change to Gray, anxious, or Violet, happy (warm). Although confrontation seems ‘heated’, it actually makes our hands cold. When you would use the mood ring at that moment, it would probably be black.

What does this ‘coldness’ mean when dealing with confrontations? For our answer, let’s look at how a martial artist would deal with a confrontational opponent. To one who is confident and competent, it’s not hard to take away a martial arts cane or wooden sword from someone who is confrontational.

Why is that?

The hands of the confrontational person are cold, guaranteed. The mood ring would be black. Someone who is confident and relaxed (warm hands, violet mood ring) will not be confrontational. Warm hands are flexible. Cold hands don’t have a good grip; it’s more like a muscle cramp.

What does this tell you about dealing with confrontations at work?

It shows you the martial arts way of dealing successfully with confrontations.

If you want to be really effective and the confrontation is really serious, you want to be really capable of doing what martial art teachers tell you to do:

  1. Charm
  2. Disarm
  3. And a third factor, which we’ll discuss below.

Why you need more than charm and disarm

‘Charm’ is used to distract the attention of the one who confronts you. When your ‘opponent’ is charmed, it is easy to disarm. This is still a confrontational answer and doesn’t solve the situation. You will probably win the confrontation, but winning always leaves a loser behind. Losers usually don’t forget they have lost and because of whom they have lost.

You can do without enemies; friends are what you need. The third step in the list above completes the process, and enables you to answer the confrontation effectively, and also be invitational to a good relationship, while showing confidence.

But of course, to get to step 3, you first have to take step 1 and 2.

Step 1: Charm

Let’s say someone has approached you ‘armed’, and confrontational. This is where you take the first step. You charm. How do you do this?

Most attackers get confused if you smile at them. This is literally so, therefore at least smile and ask a question – for instance: what do you mean, or after some practice the really adequate one: do you know you are confrontational? Naming without blaming always works, but does need someone who is confident and competent.

Step 2: Disarm

Now that you have charmed, you take the second step. You disarm. In normal social interactions you disarm by engaging in a conversation or telling someone to stop and wait for the answer. Don’t say anything, show a basic friendliness and wait what the other will do.

When the behavior that drives the confrontation is seen, it dissolves. Specifically when it is ‘confronted’ with the invitation for a friendly conversation. This brings you to the third step: Charm by being warm.

Step 3: Warm

Confrontational behavior is weakness shown, friendliness is strength shown, and weakness dissolves in strength. As said in the beginning: confrontation makes the mood ring black – the hands are cold. Cold hands like to be warm.

No social ‘armed’ confrontational person is able to resist something that is warm. That is how you disarm and also create the possibility of a good relationship, or at least the resolution of a confrontation without the gain of an enemy.

  1. Charm
  2. Disarm
  3. Warm

Of course confrontations are usually a low point in the day and your ‘mood’ turns gray. It’s impossible to deal with a cold confrontation being cold yourself. So how do you turn from gray or black to violet? This is answered in the rest of this series about dealing with conflicts and confrontations at work.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals:

Coaching is an effective way of learning how to deal with confrontations at work (or anywhere else for that matter). A prepared coaching conversation with us will show you how to do this in a way that enables you to maintain the relationship and get the results you need. Contact us for more information.

    Contact us

Handling confrontations and conflicts at work is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.