I’ll admit, I haven’t always managed to keep it classy when confronting someone.
My least proud moment was pouring a coffee into the bag of a lying cheating ex.
In the heat of the moment it seemed like a good idea. Afterwards I just felt pretty disappointed in myself.
Because no matter how far we feel we are pushed, it’s always better to behave with dignity and self-respect.
But as the above example points out, that can be easier said than done.
So here are 7 ways to confront someone while keeping it classy —no hot beverages required!
1) Get your facts straight
It’s easy to jump to conclusions, misinterpret events, or blow things out of proportion.
That’s why it’s really important you do your homework before confronting someone.
Where have you gotten your information from?
Is it first hand, or through another source?
How sure can you be that it’s accurate? How much do you trust that source?
Is there a chance that you could be overreacting?
I’m not suggesting that you are, but here’s the thing:
Our brains rely on mental shortcuts —or in science speak— heuristics.
These shortcuts help us to speed up our decision making processes and judgement.
But it comes at a price, and the cost is a reduction in accuracy.
Learning to question our own assumptions is always a good idea.
Research has even shown that people who jump to conclusions tend to make other kinds of thinking errors which can be damaging.
The bottom line is before confronting someone, take time to think things through first.
Don’t go into any situation with all guns blazing.
2) Be compassionate
Whilst you’re giving yourself some space and time to think, try to muster up some compassion for the person you are about to confront.
The easiest way to keep it classy is to be as understanding as you possibly can.
I realize that can be a lot to ask.
Especially when you’re dealing with someone who is being unreasonable. Or perhaps someone who has hurt you pretty badly.
It can help to remember that:
- Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes
- You can never know someone else’s experience — how they feel or what they’ve been through
This is in no way about making excuses for people.
If someone has done something that needs confronting, we’re not trying to let them off the hook or minimize their behavior.
But the way to confront people with as much dignity is for you to take the moral high ground.
That’s going to be much easier if you can diffuse some of your frustration, anger, irritation, sadness, disappointment — or whatever feelings you are experiencing.
Nothing softens our hard edges like cultivating compassion.
For example, research has shown that a loving kindness meditation (which aims to promote unconditional kind attitudes toward youself and others) increases positive emotions and decreases negative emotions.
It also activates empathy in the brain, decreases your biases toward other people, and promotes social connection.
Having compassion is a way of practicing acceptance at the situation and whatever has already happened.
It’s about recognizing that there is no point in piling on extra upset for yourself by carrying around unnecessary resentment (more on this later).
You practice it not just for the person you are confronting, but predominantly for yourself.
3) Keep your composure
Let’s be honest:
There’s no way to have a “classy” screaming match.
That means when it’s time to confront someone, you need to keep your composure.
It can be better to wait until intense emotions have subsided for that very reason. In the heat of the moment it’s harder to contain things.
Keeping your composure means:
- No name calling
- Don’t raise your voice
- Don’t make personal digs
- Don’t resort to passive aggression
Oh, and one from personal experience — don’t pour coffee on their belongings.
It’s not easy keeping your head, but a couple of techniques can help you to keep your cool.
The first is good old fashioned breathing.
Taking some deep breaths and counting to ten really does work.
And it can put you back in the driving seat of your emtoions, as explained by Harvard Business Review:
“It’s very difficult to talk your way out of strong emotions like stress, anxiety, or anger…When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control…But with breathing techniques, it is possible to gain some mastery over your mind.”
You might not be able to talk your way out of your emotions, but research has found naming them can help.
Simply recognising and labelling the emotions you are feeling has been shown to diminish the impact they have on you.
4) Stick to your point
Of course, for this you need to know what your point is.
What are the bare bones of the issue?
Personally when there’s something tricky I know I need to discuss with someone, I find it helpful to write it out first.
That way I know the important bullet points I want to make.
It also means I can check whether I think those points are reasonable before bringing them to someone else.
When you confront someone, resist the urge to pile on blame. They’re more likely to get defensive if they feel attacked.
And things are more likely to escalate if that happens.
Stick to your point rather than go off on any tangents.
Once you’ve made your point, don’t keep rehashing the same arguments over and over.
Try to take ownership for your own emotions, rather than make the other person responsible for them.
A simple way to do this is sticking to “I feel” statements when expressing yourself.
It’s also a good idea to avoid sweeping generalisations that can come across as accusatory.
For example, “you always” or “you never”.
5) Hear them out
How you feel is valid. But it’s good for us to remember that feelings aren’t facts.
The truth is usually more nuanced. It has grey areas.
And if you are confronting someone, they deserve the opportunity to voice their thoughts, opinions and feelings.
Basically, they have the right to respond.
A fair, reasonable and classy confrontation isn’t one where we waltz in and set the record straight before making a very swift exit.
We aren’t rehearsing the perfect speech in order to end with the ultimate mic drop (as satisfying as that fantasy may sound).
It’s a conversation.
That means it needs to be a two-way street when it comes to both speaking and listening.
According to Tania Israel, who is an expert in helping people navigate political differences, we need to show the other person we’re listening.
We can do this through so-called ‘nonverbal attending’. That means giving someone your full attention without speaking:
- Keep your body open to the other person
- Maintain moderate levels of eye contact
- Use simple gestures (like nodding) to communicate to the other person that you’re listening and encouraging them to continue.
- Stay silent when they speak
6) Think about the outcome you are looking for
Confrontation should ultimately be about seeking solutions rather than creating more of a problem.
So it shouldn’t be about point scoring or getting one over on someone.
Making someone feel bad isn’t a solution.
Being right or vindicated can feel so important to us.
But when we think about it, should that really matter more than trying to create peace or reconciliation?
Of course, the solution doesn’t always have to be finding agreement or any clear resolution.
Sometimes the desired outcome is merely to give yourself a voice.
If the main outcome for you is simply for you to express yourself and share your feelings — that is just as valid.
For example, let’s say you want to confront unacceptable behavior from someone you’re dating.
You may have already decided that a line has been crossed which you can’t go back from.
So your solution may simply be to let this person know that their actions have hurt you.
But in other scenarios you may want to find some kind of resolution that allows you to move forward together.
7) Shake it off
Bitterness doesn’t look good on anyone.
Resentment is malignant. It eats away at us from the inside out.
Meanwhile, the person who we feel that way towards is usually walking around none the wiser.
So what’s the point in that?
After your confrontation, shake it off.
Process the emotions you feel, but ultimately, try to let it go.
Things like journaling, listening to music, exercising, punching your pillow, etc. can help relieve built up tension.
Choose to forgive the person who has offended you.
In order to help let go of resentment I find it can be helpful to learn lessons. That way you take control and ownership over the experience.
For example, asking yourself do I need to reaffirm my boundaries?
What useful things have I learned from this?
How can I use this experience to grow?
To conclude: Why confront someone in a nice way?
Sometimes it will feel like someone doesn’t deserve such a reasonable response from you.
But the more reasonable you can be, the better it will serve you.
Not just because you’ll come across as classy. But because of the way human nature works.
When we feel attacked we’re way more likely to get caught up in defence mode. We dig our heels in and get stubborn.
When that happens, the person you are confronting is far less likely to consider any of your valid points.
But when you confront someone in a calm way it’s easier for the other person to reflect.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what you want?
For the other person to take on board what you are saying?
That means if you want someone to listen, absorb and understand you then keeping it classy is your best tactic.