Tone is highly important, as you can negate the words you are saying with the way you sound. It makes sense. You can pretty much assume that when you tell your button-pusher that you would like to meet and talk, they will be aware that you think there is a problem. The very act of asking for a meeting – and I do believe that you should, as opposed to doing this on the fly – conveys import and seriousness. So their guard is likely to be up. They may already be anticipating that you don’t like something about them, and they may know already what you want to talk about. So the tone you begin and conduct the conversation with must serve the purpose of conveying you are for them and the relationship.
Speak from experience.
There is a tendency we have to speak “at” the person, to use all-or-nothing language, and to speak ex cathedra, as if our reality is the final authority. These can cause formidable obstacles to your person’s willingness to hear what you want them to change. Read these two statements to see the contrast:
- You are angry with me all the time, and you need to stop.
- It seems to me that you are angry with me pretty often, and it is difficult for me to be close to you.
In the first statement, there is little vulnerability. In the second, you let them know you want to be close but can’t. Learn to talk from your gut and your experience; it helps bring walls down in your difficult person.
Affirm the good.
It is probably best to begin the talk with taking the initiative to affirm, or validate the reality of, what is good in your button-pusher and in the relationship itself. An affirmation can be simply a recitation from you of some of the things you like, appreciate, and want to see more of in them. This is particularly important, as many difficult people do not perceive confrontation as being loving, helpful, or “for” them in any way, shape, or form.
Hear them out.
It sounds ironic, but the conversation stands a better chance of you making your point if you will, early in the talk, shut up and listen! I am not trying to sound unkind, but the reason for this is that everyone has their own point of view already running around in their heads. Think about the last time someone confronted you about an issue. Unless you are a very good and non-defensive listener, you were probably forming the words to respond to them while they were still talking. You probably weren’t really attending to every nuance they were saying. So it is likely that your responsive words had more to do with your internal conversation than addressing the concern of the person confronting you.
Do not make the mistake of correcting their perception of you. That does not further your mission; in fact, it can lose ground for you. Be still and understand their opinion. You are not agreeing; you are listening. And, if they have some valid points about your contribution to the problem, agree, apologize, and let them know you will change. Say something like this: “I t