Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr.

Have you had those times in your life where people around you are being impossible or expecting impossible things from you? You know when you are a supervisor or boss and you are dealing with situations of insubordination. Or maybe you are dealing with uncharacteristically strange behaviors from your spouse or teenager. You might be in a spot where something needs to be said or done before the situation gets out of hand. Maybe it is time to confront – a crucial confrontation.

The book entitled “Crucial Confrontations” by four authors; Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer deals with the issue of effective crucial confrontation. This post highlights some of what is discussed in the book. So many emotions, false expectations, things unsaid or hinted at, as well as negative behavior – essentially, the messiness of human relationships create mountains out of molehills.

In our relationships, we tend to sweep things under the carpet (avoidance), tolerate situations that should be addressed, turn a blind eye to certain behaviors and somehow believe that everyone can read our mind so we don’t have to communicate our needs, thoughts or expectations.


The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw


What we tend to dislike the most and avoid doing, if we can, is to confront, especially when it comes to authority. We have been taught never to question anyone in authority, so we are afraid to step up and say something when something needs to be said. Often we simply do not have the right information or tools to do so. Many of us would just as soon grow a tumor as speak up. Maybe we think that if we do so (grow a tumor), the other person will finally understand.

The book Crucial Confrontations identifies three phases of handling these prickly situations. The first one is really doing the groundwork, doing the diagnosis.

The Three Phases

Work On Ourselves

We need to identify what the real problem is, not what the symptoms are. What is really going on? In a typical “heated discussion” between spouses, the discussion might start off innocently enough, talking about an important issue, but then, as the emotions heat up and defensiveness kicks in, the discussion might suddenly veer off to the matter of putting the toilet seat down and putting the cap on the toothpaste. In other words, rather than find a solution to the actual problem, the discussion turns into a blame-game.

Identify the Problem

  • Identify what happened (the situation)

  • Identify the pattern of behavior that needs to change

  • Identify how it affects the relationship

At the end of the day, every conflict is a people problem – a relationship issue. There is a gap in the relationship that needs to be addressed. This gap erodes the relationship causing doubt, loss of trust and disrespect. Some further questions to ask are:

  • What are the consequences of this behavior or situation? How are they affecting the relationship?
  • What is the intent? Be careful not to assign intent. We can’t know for sure. Is there evidence to suggest ill intent?
  • What do we want for ourselves from the relationship? What do we want from the other person?


Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. – Kevin Patterson


Determine if Confrontation is Necessary

Is the situation an anthill or a mountain? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves on top of an anthill? Is it an important issue or a non-issue? We humans can sometimes be very good at manufacturing our own problems and turning them into something big.  Evaluate the situation carefully and weigh everything?  For example, with kids, does it really matter if they choose to dress differently than a parent would like? Is their behavior just temporary and normal kid stuff?

Something else to think about would be whether or not this situation is weighing on your conscience (nagging at you). Is it something that you think about every day or prevents you from being functional at home or work? Are you choosing to remain silent and just put up with it?


Speak when you are angry and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. – Ambrose Bierce


The Confrontation

Here is the part where we need to set our ego aside and put ourselves into the shoes of the other person – as hard as that is to do. It is where we need to listen (yes, listen) to see where the other person is coming from.

Make It Safe

It is pretty much a guarantee that if we come at them with accusations that they are not going to say “oh thank you for bringing that up, I was just wondering about my shortcomings” Pay attention to non-verbal cues such as stance and facial expressions. Remember that people cannot be able to read our mind, so we should expect them to. We need to say what needs to be said.

  • State the situation plainly

  • Establish respect

  • Seek a mutual purpose


Goals without deadlines aren’t goals; they’re merely directions. –  Kevin Patterson


The Goal

The goal is to solve the problem, not to nitpick. The confrontation may not be a linear process and we shouldn’t expect it to be – humans will be humans. Sometimes there will be defensiveness, sometimes the conversation will get off track. But we need to be willing to loop around and go back a few steps if necessary. Sometimes we will need to re-establish safety and trust. Sometimes we will need to get feedback (and receive it) even if we don’t like it.

What we are looking for is a joint solution, a plan of action.

Three Things  to Establish:

  • Who? Who is going to do what?

  • What? What is going to be done?

  • When? When (exactly – day/ time) is it going to be done?

So, really, instead of discussing in circles, trying to find the guilty party and who is responsible for the hurt, which is a waste of time and energy, we can put ourselves on the same side of the table and find a workable solution to the problem. It is about working as a team rather than as adversaries.


Remember, to know and not to do is really not to know. – Kevin Patterson


The Follow Up

We need to do check-ups to see how the solution and the actions are working and, if need be, come together for adjustments. We should never neglect this important step, otherwise, we may end up falling back into old habits and more conflict. It really is about being accountable for doing what we agreed we would do.

For an effective crucial confrontation we need to remember and work through the formula:

  1. Identify the problem

  2. Identify how it affects the relationship

  3. Decide if a confrontation is necessary

  4. Create a safe discussion

  5. Seek a mutual purpose

  6. Focus on the goal: to solve the problem

  7. Agree on who? What? and When?

  8. Follow up

The Takeaway

As much as we may dislike having to confront a situation and people, it can often be the shortest and most effective way to deal with prickly issues and restoring or strengthening relationships. It is about being real and authentic with a desire to correct a problem. When we take ourselves (and our emotions) out of the situation and focus on problem-solving, we are on a better path

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Diana Lynne enjoys travel, self-improvement, pursuing a debt-free/financially free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life.  You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca