Confrontation is the beginning of conflicts, but confrontation can only come about if we have the courage to have a conversation in the first place.
Conversation is not confrontation, though conversation may make parties in conflict uncomfortable.
Uncomfortable conversations must happen in fierce ways for those conversations to have value, meaning, and to move parties from where they are comfortable to where they are uncomfortable.
Part of this means moving away from banalities, and talking about the things that aren’t worth talking about, and moving toward talking about the truths we don’t talk about.
Susan Scott, in her book Fierce Conversations, calls these truths “ground truths.” From the military, this defines the truth that intelligence and tactics can’t get you to.
It means discussing philosophy, not religion.
It means discussing strategies, not tactics.
It means moving past listicles, and the regular “hey, how are you doing?” of the day and directly addressing the things that are making us uncomfortable, unproductive, and uncourageous.
When we act to move toward discussing ground truths, we must take the step with courage. We don’t move in that direction because its infinitely more comfortable to just avoid the whole thing, complain about a situation to others, or to continue to escalate the uncomfortableness of the situation through ambiguous and misleading nonverbal communication.
When we have the courage to move toward ground truths, we must eliminate three things from our thinking that hold us back:
Our need to be liked. This doesn’t mean that we act impolitely, impolitically, or speak out of turn. What it does mean is that we must acknowledge that the emotional reactions of the other person may lead them to not like us. And we must be ok with that.
Our need to be right. When we open the door to discussing ground truths, we also open the door to being told that we a wrong; that we have misinterpreted the situation or the responses of the people; that our framing might not match the reality as other people see it.
Our need to be heard. The person who opens a ground truth conversation should probably speak last. There is an epidemic of noise in our work, family, and school cultures. This noise serves as a constant distraction, designed to keep us responding and reacting to the wrong things. We tend to respond to the impact of all this noise by ratcheting up our own voices. In a ground truth conversation, our voices should be silent, and out need to be heard put on hold.
Confrontation precedes conflict. But only by a little. And when we need to be liked, to be right, or to be heard, we miss the opportunities inherent in confrontation, replacing them instead with negative escalation, continued conflict, and unmanaged outcomes.