ANST - Gunnora's Rules for Confrontation

C.L. Ward gunnora at
Tue Dec 7 12:31:51 PST 1999

I was recently asked about being confrontational, and how I avoided being in
trouble all the time while still being confrontational.

I took some time to articulate my views on this topic for the questioner, and
I thought it might be useful to others as well.

There are times to jump somebody's butt, and there are times to gripe only to
your one or two closest friends.  Picking your fights is an important skill
for the confrontational and outspoken person.  Sometimes venting to a friend
who can be *absolutely* trusted not to carry it further is a Good Thing and
is all that is needed for a given situation.

A wise woman once said, "When you step in shit, scrape it off!  Don't sit down
and play in it."  That's a good rule for the overly confrontational.

My personal rule is that if someone else is having a problem, especially my
spouse or my apprentices, I encourage *them* to go speak to the malefactor themselves
and I try *real* hard not to become involved.  If they try and the malefactor
is an ass about it, then I may get involved on the level of, "Look, I know Lady
Apprentice tried talking to you about this and she didn't feel that she got
a good response.  What's the story from your side of things?"  And depending
on the response I may go back and lecture the apprentice because they were being
dumb or misunderstood the situation etc., I may set up a meeting between the
apprentice and the malefactor that I will moderate, or chew the britches off
the malefactor -- depending on what's most appropriate.

On the other hand, there are situations where a champion is needed.  Either
no one can talk to the person because he or she is boneheaded, or it's a delicate
matter that everyone else is embarrassed to bring up, or its a case where "little
people" feel they would endanger their SCA career if they speak to Duke Sir
Pelican Bigshot themselves but where you might have more success.

Confrontation need not be hostile.  Sometimes it's better to think of it as
"negotiation".  Confrontation and compromise are the tools of the diplomat,
of the Peer, and of the mature person.  Confrontation is a good tool for getting
things done if you avoid going off half-cocked, and don't butt into battles
that are not yours to fight.

A good checklist for "should I get involved?":

(1) Am I butting in? Is the problem something that mainly concerns other people?
 If it is not my battle, I will encourage the involved folks to open negotiations
about the problem themselves and resolve it.

(2) Is this my fight? Is this something that directly affects me? Is this a
problem that only I can solve?  Is there someone who would be better suited
to take up this matter (i.e., a friend of the malefactor, their Laurel if it
is an apprentice, etc)? If this is your fight, then is it really major enough
to require a battle?

(3) Am I having a kneejerk reaction? If I wait a day or two and calm down, will
I still feel the need to wage this war? Will this problem correct itself without
my intervention?

(4) Is this a righteous battle?  Am I in the right absolutely?  Know all your
facts, and double-check before starting a fight -- it saves much embarrassment.
Get the story from everyone who was there.  Don't go off based only on the rumor-mill.

(5) Is my intention to just punish the person, or am I genuinely interested
in trying to correct a problem?  If you're going for pure punitive action, drop
it. Yelling at people only makes them resentful and often worsens the bad behavior.
 If you are not going to work for a civilized resolution with an open mind on
your side of the equation, you have no business having the current confrontation.

Sometimes I find it very useful to go to my friends before I have a confrontation,
and tell them what the problem is and see if *my* reaction to it is reasonable.
 I pick level-headed friends for this sort of thing -- you want water thrown
on the blaze if you're out of line, not gasoline!

If you decide that you really need to have the confrontation, then you must
do it in a business-like manner.  Imagine that this discussion is taking place
in an office setting with people around you who can fire you for unbusinesslike

Take the person to a private location.  Confrontations do not need large audiences.
 Think of times your boss has taken you into an office, closed the door, and
chewed you out -- you want to strive for that sort of encounter, with you in
the "boss" chair. If the person refuses to meet privately, at least try and
keep the volume down and avoid creating a scene.  An ugly confrontation causes
more damage than a lot of bad behavior that you want to confront people about.
 It is better to wait and try to catch the person in a more private location!

When you do talk, tell the person, calmly and clearly what the problem is. 
If it is not something that you personally witnessed, ask them for their side
of the story before you go any further -- you may find that the gossip-monger
who griped about the problem to you was lying, misinformed, exaggerating, etc.

Once you've established with the person that there is a problem, explain clearly
and concisely why it is a problem and what exactly you want them to do to remedy
it.  Be prepared to negotiate.

Finish up by telling the person the consequences of not modifying their behavior.
 I find that saying, "If this doesn't improve, I will come back and we'll talk
about it again" is a much more effective and behavior-changing threat than any
other thing I can do.  Most people *hate* confrontations, and would rather have
their toenails pulled out with hot pliers than have you come back and have a
calm discussion with them again.  

It is almost impossible to ignore someone who discusses things in a cold, crisp,
businesslike manner.  It is hard to take seriously the screaming hysterical
idjit jumping up and down in front of you and foaming at the mouth.  Learning
to be calm, cool, and collected while having these discussions is probably the
hardest thing for confrontational folks, but it is a vital life skill that will
serve you well both in the SCA and in the real world.

Now, as a note, there *are* times I've gone off half-cocked.  I *have* started
confrontations that I probably shouldn't have.  No one is perfect, and most
of us have gone right from impulse to action without the brain being consulted
in between.  Use your friends as a resource to help you throttle back.  Try
a delay period -- wait a few hours or a few days to cool down.  But when *you*
make a mistake, be prepared to have others confront you about it, and resolve
ahead of time to make your mistakes right, to apologize and make amends if needed.

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