The Art of Confrontation

In the middle of a holiday meal, someone says something unintentionally (but unmistakably) bigoted. What will you do? Diana Sanchez and Kimberly Chaney say you shouldn’t let it pass.” *

Really? They want us to engage that kind of negative energy. Who says things like that, right in your own family, terrible. But Uncle Joe is not an altogether terrible guy. So his bigotry must be coming from Eckhart Tolle’s “painbody.” Even so, I thought we weren’t supposed to let our painbody get triggered by someone else’s painbody.

Two out of control painbodies trying to have conversation. Picture that. We all know where that goes. Indigestion or worse, like maybe somebody walking out and never coming back.

But here we have a study to suggest that maybe we should get involved after all, that confrontation can make a difference in a good way:

“We found that participants who were confronted felt bad about their behavior, ruminated more, showed an enduring prejudice reduction,” said Sanchez, an associate professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences. “And we didn’t just look at their immediate response, but looked at them a week later.” *

Seems to me that this news makes confrontation into a right and responsibility to do what we can to make the world a better place via confrontation. Then again, there is confrontation and there is confrontation.

We are not talking about an extended emotionally bloody locking of horns. We are talking about a calmly delivered short statement, like the one in the study:

“Gee, that’s kind of stereotypical, don’t you think?” *

And that’s all, because that’s all it took to help study participants to reflect on their responses in a way that reduced their bigotry scores. Easier said than done, you may say. What if in that moment we prefer to simply wring Uncle Joe’s neck.

Now, now…now we know how much good we can do from the high road, so first we will breathe, 3 luxurious breaths, in through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath. This is how we ready and steady ourselves to do right things right – short and to the point – a simple confrontation, boom, done.

And sometimes it is not even necessary to address the person directly. Recently, I deliberately used the word “civility” in a meeting, and was amazed to see a typically uncivil woman** morph into the better angel of herself, right before my very eyes, like magic. All because of a word.

We call this “Name it to Tame it,” to say that there is something about bringing a name to primitive emotion that brings the executive function back online to calm the anxious or angry brain.

The holidays are here, and with them comes plenty of opportunity to try a well honed confrontation, when bigotry arises within our earshot. Short and simple. Just to plant the seed. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think,

Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* “Speaking up against bigotry can reduce bad behavior,” Ken Branson, November 30, 2017, Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




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