The road to hell was paved with the bones of men who did not know when to quit fighting.

— Paulette Jiles, Enemy Women

A few years ago, I worked with a woman who was very different from me. 

She was really focused on getting things done; I was really interested in connecting to people.

She needed things to be done in a very specific way; I was a little more flexible.

She had a difficult time adjusting to change; I was excited about it. 

Since both of us were generally friendly people who were good at our jobs and I made an effort to put her at ease we usually got along fine, but we had our share of awkward silences and tense conversations.

One particularly stressful day in our office, she showed me a document I had typed and asked me if I saw the error in it. (For the record, do not do this. It annoys people. Just politely and clearly ask them to make the change you want, don’t quiz them.)

It turned out that I had added an extra return, so there was an extra line of empty space.

She made it obvious that my oversight had annoyed her greatly. Like really obvious…she had this thing about sighing so you would know how put out she was.

Sighing loudly, dramatically, and repeatedly.

It wasn’t the first time I’d been sighed at and it definitely wouldn’t be the last, so I decided we needed to talk and I took her out to breakfast for a chat.

When You Need To Confront Someone

There are a few things you need to ask yourself before you take someone out for a confrontation breakfast (or any confrontation meal, really):

Confrontation Question #1
Is it true?
Before you talk with this other person, ask yourself if you really know the whole story. Is your information accurate? Is it complete? Are you going off of your assumption or real facts? 

If you aren’t sure, get more information.

If you know it’s true, go on to Question #2

Confrontation Question #2
Is it necessary?
The things we are angry or upset about will often resolve themselves if they are left alone. Also, it might be someone else’s responsibility to have the conversation you are about to have so it might not be necessary (or appropriate) for YOU to have it. 

But sometimes it is necessary, because you need to be clear about your boundaries and teach other people how to respect them. You are the judge of that and I promise you that you are qualified to make that call.

If you don’t know if it’s necessary, sit with it for a bit and come back to it in a day or so.

If you know it’s necessary, go on to Question #3.

Confrontation Question #3
Is it kind?

This is the most important question of all, because even if it is true and necessary for you to talk about the issue, it might not be kind. 

Of course, you might be so pissed at the other person by this point that you don’t care if it’s kind to confront them.


If you can be kind when it’s hard, you can create a life that is an intention and not a reaction. TWEET THIS!

So, ask yourself, “Is this kind? Kind to me? Kind to them? Kind to anyone else who is involved?”

You might be surprised to find out that it actually IS kind of you to confront the person, because they don’t realize what they are doing. Sometimes they actually would want to know.

If you answer yes to all of these questions, you have the green light. Go to that person and invite them to take a walk with you, have lunch, etc. Bring up the conflict in a friendly, kind and truthful way. 

Both of the times I did this, I repaired working relationships with two colleagues that would have been awful otherwise. 

In the case of the coworker above, I took her out to breakfast and said:
“Diane (not her real name), when you are stressed out it’s harder for you to think about how you are talking to me. When I’m stressed out, it’s harder for me not to take things you say  personally. Sometimes when you tell me about something you need me to do, you give me the impression you think I’m careless about my job. Do you think I’m careless about my job?”

I paused here so that she could respond. PRO TIP: If you can master the art of the pause for response when everything in you is screaming to fill up that space with conciliatory chatter, you can change your relationships. Promise.

She was genuinely surprised I felt that way. It opened things up for us and we had a great conversation. Things went smoothly for us for months after that, until we needed another conversation. Sigh.

Protecting your boundaries isn’t a one-time deal.

Conflict is tricky, but avoiding it doesn’t make it go away.  

You can’t control how other people respond, but you can respect your own boundaries by calling attention to them in a kind and honest way.

Now I want to hear from you. In the comments below, tell me about a time you’ve had to confront someone. How did it go?

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