Sometimes it feels like we’re caught between the old model of aggressive and combative manhood where everything is a battle, and the new kinder, gentler man, for whom everything is a compromise. And we don’t have a whole lot of examples of men finding middle ground in our modern culture.
It’s either Die Hard or The Simpsons.
So in real life, where confrontations are everywhere, from our kids to our spouse to our boss to a nosy neighbor, how does a good man stay rooted during heated conversations? And does it matter what the age or gender of the other party is?
Anyone else tired of being a yes-man to your boss, your wife, or your peers? Are you equally tired of backing down or avoiding confrontations with the know-it-alls, the gossipers, and the self-righteous proselytizers? Or maybe you’re the one always getting in someone’s face?
Sometimes we don’t even know when we’re being too easy or too domineering in a situation, and in the course of trying to figure some of this out for myself I came up with some guidelines that have helped me.
Know your values. If you focus on what you stand for instead of what you’re against, just about any confrontation becomes quite a bit easier. If we’re sufficiently grounded in our own values, we’re not as concerned with what others believe.
Lead, don’t follow. Letting the other person lead you in a conversation or argument is giving away your half of the confrontation. You don’t have to follow. Instead, lead from your values.
Speak softly. Leave the big stick at home. This can be a very hard lesson to learn, and sometimes a painful one. Usually it’s because the other party has a bigger stick. Our deeper voices and tendency to ratchet up the volume when we get angry can also backfire on us by escalating a situation that could best be served by a calm, soft voice.
Toe the line. How would you act if you were in the presence of someone older and wiser than you? If our actions are out of line with our words, they would call us on it and we probably would need to re-think things.
Keep your cool. Letting anger speak for you will just about always end up with your foot in your mouth (or worse). Cultivate and maintain your own internal reservoir of calm for times when you start to see red, and focus on that instead. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a couple of deep breaths. Other times it takes all your effort, but it really helps.
Know when to fold or go all in. It seems obvious to say that there are more broke gamblers than rich ones, but I’m still surprised how many of us make bad bets every single day. For me, the difference has been knowing when to cut my losses and just fold. It’s not often we need to bet the farm, and getting the guts to do that comes from acknowledging how many times we don’t have to. We can walk away.
Think of the children. Even if our kids aren’t around us at the time, they might be the best guides for us. How would they react to our posture and tone of voice? And is that what we want to embody?
Life is full of confrontations. How we deal with them helps to define who we are.
—Photo Matt Seppings/Flickr