Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Confrontation not Conflict

I could not believe my eyes, this morning, when the guy in front of me at the grocery store checkout verbally and then physically attached the check out lady.  He shouted at her and then pushed her over.  She landed flat on her back  sprawled out on the supermarket floor.  The man left the complex shouting abuse over his shoulder.  What had lead to the altercation, I don't know.  I do know though that all the other customers were shocked and dismayed by this man's behaviour.  (I must note that not one of us went to her aide ashamedly not even myself).  Could he have a good reason for acting in such a way?  I don't think there is any justification for such an action. What do you think?  I believe that if you are in dispute with someone there are others means of expressing your dissatisfaction and view point.  There are other means of trying to find a solution.  Violence offers a release of the tension but that's only short lived. You only have to look at what's happening  in Gaza to know that.  And, yes, I realise that war has been waged for years and is complex and all consuming for the people involved.  I'm grateful I was not born into that multi- generational conflict.

Dealing with conflict seems to have invaded my life this past week.  The supermarket incident was just the tip of the iceberg.  I have been angry myself this week at the behaviour of a young person who regularly visits my property.   Have you every heard the expression "pulling the wool of over somebody's eyes".  The phrase is of 19th century American origin and means to deceive someone in order to prevent them from knowing what you are really doing.  It sounds innocuous, wool being soft and someone cuddly.  But what it really means is to lie and take advantage of another person.  That other person was me on this occasion..  This young person, told me a bold face lie so I would assist her to do something that her mother would not approve.  (Going for a full day horse ride with a friend on a school day. Little did I know that the mother did not give her permission for her daughter to ride, did not approve of the friend  or that the girls would ride their horses to their school grounds - a definite safety issue).

Of course, when the school alerted her mother to the problem, she contacted me and confronted me about aiding her daughter in engaging in risky behaviour. Of course,  I tried to defend myself and my actions and suggested we should all meet and try to resolve the matter.  I felt angry, concerned and disappointed all at the same time.  I also felt the young person had betrayed my trust and jeopardized my reputation in the community.

This was a time of confrontation.  Confrontations has a couple  of important meanings all of which relate to the situation I found myself in. They are :

a focussed comparison; bringing together for a careful comparison

discord resulting from a clash of ideas or opinions

a hostile disagreement face-to-face 


I suggested to the mother and daughter that we should all meet and discuss the incident and any possible repercussions.   During the meeting that followed the incident, it became apparent the mother and daughter had been in outright conflict for some time and the teenager was exhibiting some very challenging behaviours.    The mother was at her wits end and the daughter was not prepared to comply with any of her mothers wishes or rules. Neither was prepared to listen to the others view point. They both held firmly to their believe it was the other persons fault. I am right - you are wrong thinking. The interaction between the mother and daughter was the kind of confrontation that divides.  I attempted to reduce the hostility between the two and look for common ground.  I was not successful. I recommended they seek family counselling.

I then confronted the teenager about the possible ramifications of her irresponsible beauviour:
a) her own safety, the safety of her friend and the safety of other students at the school
b) the well being of the horses
c) liability issues for both her and myself..
d) the possibility of loosing her right to ride again.

The purpose of the confrontation was to present her with the true facts of the matter in an attempt to protect her from further foolishness and keep her safe from harm.   I was fully aware that confrontation is a powerful force and can lead to constructive change and growth or to greater defensiveness.  It can cement relationships or shatter them.  I deliberately steered clear of expressing my own hurt feelings and focused on the impacts for her with the hope that she would recognize the discrepancies between her current behaviour and her life goals.

Confrontation is difficult. There are no two ways about that.  Sometimes it's because we lack confidence, knowledge or skills, but it could also be that we have the wrong attitude. Confrontation that is harsh and based on unresolved hostility or frustration, and lacks empathy or respect will in the long run be destructive to both parties.

The success or failure of confrontation usually depends on the quality of the relationship between the two parties before the confrontation occurred.  The more clearly we have shown our care and concern and respect for the other person the more likely they will be open to not only hearing what we have to say but also taking it seriously.

Here are some of the questions I asked myself before confronted someone I am concerned about:
  1. Is this the right approach to the issue and the right technique to use with this person at this time?
  2. Is the other person likely to benefit from what I have to say?
  3.  Am I the right person to be taking on this role or should it be someone else?
  4. How might it impact on other people involved or connected to this person?
  5. Do I have a plan?  The what, where, when and how of confronting this person.
I found the book "How to be a Friend people want to be friends with" by Richard P Walters (Regal Books, California, USA, 1981) an interesting read with some great insights into how to successfully confront people we care about.

The outcome of my own experience is still in progress. the young person concerned has created some distance between us (emotionally).  I hope this means she is considering what I had to say and not smoldering with resentment.  Only time will tell.

What has been your experience and do you have any tips that might help me or others engage in more successful outcomes when we confront people we care about?

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