1Eighty Consulting

Working with organizations to create a safe culture
for communication and constructive confrontation

Hi Gary,

Many years ago, when our first child was an infant, he became very sick. Our doctor insisted we bring him to the clinic immediately. As we rushed to the clinic he became worse with every mile. As we reached the town I took the shortest route to the clinic. I found myself behind a distracted driver who was driving slowly, gawking left and right.  He was clearly oblivious to my presence behind him.  At my first opportunity, I passed him and rushed to the clinic. As I glanced in my rear-view mirror his sudden rage was unmistakable.  He began tailgating me aggressively, shaking his fist.   When we arrived at the clinic he stayed out on the street and watched as we snatched our hysterical infant from his car seat and raced to the front door. I turned to look at him as we entered the building. All the rage had drained from his face as he shook his head, rolled up his window and slowly drove away.

It’s not hard to imagine his Inner Narrative about me while he was following me to the clinic, is it? Probably something like: “What a stupid kid…thinks he owns the road!”   “He’s just reckless and doesn’t care about others!” And it’s just as easy to imagine the 180 degree change in that narrative when he realized we were just a young, highly stressed couple with a sick baby.

In the 60’s and 70’s Social Psychologists established that human beings are very poor at explaining the behavior of others. We tend to explain the behavior of others in terms of their disposition, and less so because of the situation.  “That’s just how they are.” It has a name: Fundamental Attribution Error. The person who cuts in line in front of you at Wal-Mart does so because he’s a pushy jerk, and not because he’s got diminished peripheral vision in one eye and didn’t see you. If you don’t develop an awareness of your Inner Narrative you will never be a good “Tactical Confrontationalist.” This is the “Zen” of Tactical Confrontation.

When you take a flawed Inner Narrative with you into a confrontation it will ooze out in your tone of voice, be visible in your facial expressions and show up in your body language. And you won’t even be aware of it.

Always ask yourself 2 questions when you are about to initiate a confrontation.

#1. What am I assuming to be the reason this person is behaving as they are? Actually stop and articulate your inner narrative to yourself. Say it out loud. It will force you to evaluate and separate your assumptions from your emotions.

#2. Are there any other possible explanations for the behavior besides the one I’m assuming?
This simple step will help keep you from unconsciously poisoning the process when you need to confront.
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Gary Sheely is the founder and CEO of 1Eighty Consulting.  He works with organizations that want their people to have the upper hand in constructive confrontation and confidence in de-escalating angry people.

His clients learn skills that reduce "confrontation anxiety," so that needed confrontation can take place without creating tension, and angry encounters can be quickly de-escalated.

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