How to Confront a Person When There’s a Problem

By S. Renee Smith, Vivian Harte

For most people, confronting another person is the scariest thing to do. However, it’s important to confront people when their behavior interferes with your needs. Even though telling others that their behavior is causing you a problem is very difficult, doing so is necessary in order to maintain open, honest communication.

Many people say nothing and keep their anger inside, just under the surface; then they explode and become very aggressive at the least little thing. The other person is completely confused about why this is occurring. It’s much more effective to speak honestly and openly about the situation and see whether the two of you can come to a win-win agreement on it.

Confrontational “I” statements are created in three or four steps, summarized in the table. Steps 1 and 4 are always included. Steps 2 and 3 may both be included, or only one of the two may be included.

Being Assertive: Creating Your Confrontational “I”
Statements
Steps When Used
1. Describe the other person’s specific behavior you want
to see changed.
Every time, at the beginning of the “I”
statement
2. Describe why the behavior is harming or hurting you in some
way (or may harm or hurt you).
Use either this step or Step 3 every time; you can also use
both
3. Describe your negative feelings. Use either this step or Step 2 every time; you can also use
both
4. Describe exactly what you want the person to do
instead.
Every time, at the end of the “I” statement, after
you’ve described why
  1. Describe the specific behavior.

    Begin a confrontational “I” statement with the word “when.” Tell the person the specific behavior that’s causing the problem: “When you drive 85 miles an hour on the freeway when we go to your cousin’s house . . . ,”

    Be careful to state only facts. Don’t put the other person down or moralize. For example, don’t say, “When you act in a thoughtless way . . .” If you blame the other person, he’s much more likely to take offense and not cooperate with the change you request.

  2. Describe the tangible effect.

    Explain why the behavior is hurting you in some way by explaining what effect it’s having on your life: “When you drive 85 miles an hour on the freeway when we go to your cousin’s house, I don’t want to ride with you . . .”

  3. Describe your feelings.

    Describe whatever negative feelings you experience because of the behavior and the tangible effect: “When you drive 85 miles an hour on the freeway when we go to your cousin’s house, I don’t want to ride with you because I’m afraid we’ll have a crash . . .”

  4. State exactly what you would like the other person to do instead.

    It’s important to state exactly what you want his behavior to be instead. Don’t use “we,” as in, “I think we should sit down and talk about it.” Specifically describe only what you want him to do.

    This request should always come at the end after you’ve described the behavior that’s causing the problem and why it’s a problem for you. Only then will the other person be open to hearing your request. Don’t put the request at the beginning. It always belongs at the end.

    Here’s how this entire “I” statement sounds: “When you drive 85 miles an hour on the freeway when we go to your cousin’s house, I don’t want to ride with you because I’m afraid we’ll have a crash. Please drive at 70 miles an hour. I’d feel much safer.”

Be careful not to include what you believe the other person is thinking or feeling, such as, “I feel you don’t care about our relationship” or “I know you’re trying to hurt me.” You don’t know the other person’s thoughts and feelings as well as he does.

If you say this, the other person may seize upon such a statement and argue that you’re wrong, and he would be correct because he knows his own thoughts and feelings better than anyone else in the world. Unfortunately, this is an excellent way for the other person to start an argument (that you would lose) so the two of you won’t be able to talk about the issue you brought up in the first place. State only your own thoughts and feelings about the situation.

Also, don’t use “we,” such as, “I’d like us to see a financial counselor” or “I would appreciate it if we spent more time together on the weekend.” Doing this weakens your request. It’s better to state what you want the other person to do instead.

You may want to include more than one suggestion for resolving the situation and ask the other person which one he’d prefer. You can also point out any benefits to him with your suggestions. For example, in the preceding scenario, you can suggest that you drive, with the benefit that he can rest while you drive.

There may be some give and take so that the two of you can make this a win-win situation. Stay open to suggestions on what could work better for the other person and still meet your needs.