African Business SchoolConfrontation. Learn to recognize it for what it is “a friend in disguise.”

One of the hardest things to do when someone is confronting you is to remain calm and objective. It takes practice and courage, remember “the bees sting fiercest when you are close to the honey”~ African Proverb. You need to have the courage to remain grounded whilst you work out how best to determine and understand the perspective of the person confronting you.

If you know where they are coming from, the better the odds of diffusing the tension and eventual resolution. When you find yourself in this situation don’t take anything personally. Our Elders say “It is better to kneel down in front of a short man and get up with your full height” ~ African Proverb. Taking things personally is an expression of selfishness, based on the assumption that everything is about you. It usually isn’t.

The way you respond to someone who confronts you is important on whether or not there is a positive outcome. Here’s 7 ways to make confrontation “a friend in disguise”.

1. Absorb. When confronted the first line of defence is to absorb the offensive. Listening to understand and not to respond. You have two ears and one mouth, so listen twice as much as you speak. You will be amazed at how effective this is, it gives you space to think about your response. Sometimes having some time to gather your thoughts before responding can help a lot. You are not obligated to respond or immediately engage. Remember the other party has prepared and have decided that they wish to bring a mater to the head. You may or may not have any idea of the matter and you may or may not have prepared well on the subject matter. So, absorb and listen well whilst you stall for time and gather your thoughts together.

2. Diffuse.Take momentum or sting out of the thrust. Turn the negative into the positive by asking a positive question. This is tantamount to going on the other side of the counter and empathising with the person confronting. By so doing you seek to understand why they are behaving in such a manner. Be mindful however that there is a fine line between genuine concern and sarcasm so be careful of your tone of voice. A genuine question, phrased in a positive way to get a clear answer and more often than not it may take them by surprise and may temporary diffuse the situation. Aim to clear up the misunderstanding or change the emphasis

3. Rule of Holes. Observe the 3 rules and navigate your way through a delicate situation. To do this subtly take cognisance of the rules and make the other party know you are aware of what they are doing by holding eye contact, pausing, commenting on whether their behaviour is appropriate or necessary or better still ask them to stop.

Rule 1: “When you are in a hole stop digging”~ Molly Ivins. Don’t do anything to further aggravate the situation leading to a shouting match let alone physical exchange of blows. Be prepared to listen with full attention to what the other person wants to know.

Rule 2: “He who digs a hole for others digs a hole for himself”~ Yoruba Proverb. In an altercation there are no winners everybody loses. Make the party know what the possible outcomes of pursuing the engagement in a destructive manner is and has consequences as you may need to work together after the fall out. Be direct, structured and prepared to tell them where you disagree but also ask them to explain their views further in seeking clarification.

Rule 3: “He who is dead cannot dig his own hole”~ African Proverb. Emphasize the relationship and the need to cooperate in order to meet a common objective. Look for common or mutual ground as to why you need each other. The confrontation then becomes one of solution seeking and problem resolution as opposed to blame, winner takes all.

This is how you remain friends when confronting or confronted.

4. Give as good as you get. Sometimes confrontation is simply squaring off and letting out steam so that the relationship gets back to normal as soon as possible. In this case you match and mirror you opponent. Our Elders say “when the music changes, so does the dance”. It helps to take the moral high road, especially when someone does something underhanded or mean. In this instance you don’t need to descend to the same level. This way you keep the upper hand in the engagement. Don’t apologise, agree, or make excuses and avoid sounding upset or angry. Keep a level head and the peace that follows will be long lasting.

5. Listen for clues in your conversation. The objective of confronting or being confronted is to clear the air and it is important that you understand what the issue is before you can address it. If you hear objections or questions like ‘How did this happen?’, ‘I don’t understand why this is relevant to me’, ‘Where did you hear about this idea?’, ‘Who told you?’, then it may give you an indication that the matter is still not clearly articulated to be resolved. In this case don’t be shy about asking a question when the answer may be obvious to you, to check other persons understanding. Conclude by restating what you have resolved/agreed after all “not every lizard that lies on its belly has a stomach ache”~ African Proverb.

6. Acknowledge the positive aspects of their contribution. It takes the steam out of the initial thrust and dilutes the venom in the vocabulary. If you paint a big picture — make sure they understand the importance of what they are doing and how they fit into the wider concept and objective, they usually quieten down and meaningful dialogue ensues. When calm is established you can ice the cake by asking them how they would like to solve the problem or make a recommendation.

7. Walk away when everything else goes pear shaped. This works but be careful because it is hard to walk back in. Be sure you really want to do this. Sometimes they may be just winding you up.

Shake hands with confrontation and make it your best friend.