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How To Manage Confrontation – The Five Ds Formula

Updated on February 9, 2019

Without a doubt confrontations are some of the most stressful situations on the planet. We all get them. Some of the most scarily stressful situations I have faced have involved confronting (or preparing to confront) other people about something or other. It's said that most people fear speaking before an audience more than they fear death – and that, apparently, includes many public speakers! Facing an audience to deliver a speech can be considered to be a confrontation – wouldn’t you agree?

It is said of Dr. Murray Banks, who spoke before thousands of people on what was called the "rubber chicken circuit" years ago in the United States that he was nervous before he gave his talks. One day, he was preparing his speech before addressing a group of several thousand women when a woman came up to him during his rehearsal.

The woman asked Dr. Banks if he was nervous. "Not at all," he replied. "Why do you ask?" he asked the woman. "Because you're standing in the ladies' room," she replied. He hadn’t realized it at the time but he was that stressed...that nervous!

In this article we are going to look at how to manage negative confrontations or threatening confrontational situations– the kind you may have with your spouse over a disturbing and really serious issue concerning their behavior, a yelling customer, an upset co-worker, or a boss with a scowl on his face…

Now, there are people who love confrontations, and you probably know some. But this article isn’t meant for them. I brought this up just to show you that confrontation isn’t always a bad thing.

Confrontation can be viewed as positive or negative. In some organizations confrontation is promoted as a way to spur innovation and creativity. Many successful technology companies actually foster a spirit of confrontation in their ranks – to force great ideas to the surface, and then refine and polish the ideas.

That is an example of positive confrontation used in this instance to spur the company’s teams and individuals on to greater glory.

On the personal front, positive confrontation can help you confront your fears, your challenges, and your weaknesses to find solutions. You meet your fears and challenges or your weaknesses head on and in confronting them you can go ahead to master them.

Positive confrontation enables you to bring something to a head, to put your challenges behind you, to make your life better by attacking your problems head on.

On the flip side you have negative confrontation that can leave you stressed out and unsure of yourself. Some people find themselves in relationships or workplace situations where they have to endure negative confrontation for a prolonged period of time, and this can lead to chronic stress.

The good news is that you can learn how to manage confrontation in the workplace, how to manage confrontational staff or employees, and in your relationships. You probably don’t need more training than the Five D’s as I will be showing you below…

Managing confrontation with the Five D’s

Let’s now look at the "Five D's" of effective confrontation management: Defuse, Drain, Discuss, Determine, and Decide.


A negative confrontation is like a ticking time bomb – you just have to deal with it and stop it exploding. Leave it to explode and it’s too late for an intervention.

“De-fusing” here is akin to removing a detonator fuse from a bomb.

For the sake of convenience I’m calling you the “protagonist”, and the other person with whom you’re having or likely to have a threatening confrontation the “antagonist.” The “antagonist” could be a child, your spouse, a co-worker, a boss, a customer, etc.

To defuse a confrontational situation, accept responsibility to address the antagonist’s concerns. This is not to say that you accept responsibility for all of the antagonist’s assertions, aspersions, accusations, etc.

If we take the workplace example, if you work for a corporation, it's unlikely you are personally responsible for everything bad that happens there. But while you cannot take all of the blame for what’s wrong at the corporation, you should still take the responsibility to deal with the issue at hand.

When you accept responsibility for addressing your antagonist’s concerns this automatically defuses the issue. Additionally, it takes you off the defensive – which enables you to go on the offensive. You can then afford to be personable, and kind and understanding, and to talk with a smile in your voice – ever heard the phrases, “a disarming smile” or “go on a charm offensive”?

Let’s consider the case of spouses in a confrontational situation: If a man decides he is 60 percent wrong in an argument, and his wife is 40 percent wrong… What do you think will happen?

He will never win if he addresses it in that manner. To defuse the situation what he should do is to apologize for 150% of the whole thing, no matter what.

“Decide whether you want to be right, or whether you want to be happy.”

Drain emotion from the confrontation

I mentioned that some people love confrontations. Well, if you have people like that around you here’s a great tip how to make them hate arguing with you: When they try arguing with you, just tell them, "you're probably right," and move on.

Negative confrontation is fueled by emotion. When you cut off the emotion, the confrontation burns itself out.

That said, how do you cut off emotion in a confrontation? By forcing yourself to respond in a calm, cool manner – no matter how your antagonist is reacting!

You can control your emotions in a confrontation. And when you control your response to a confrontation this puts you in a power position – now you have a powerful positive tool on your side!

When you approach a confrontation in a professional, self-controlled manner, all the emotion is drained out of it. Try this the next time you have to confront somebody…


Steven Covey proposed a principle we should all live by: “First seek to understand – then seek to be understood.”

When you discuss with your antagonist, this offers you a powerful opportunity to understand their point of view. As you may know, perception becomes reality. Until you understand your antagonist’s perception of the issue at hand, you will not be able to understand their particular reality.

Make sure you get their concerns or their complaint correctly. Ask questions to clarify the issues that he or she has brought up. This helps on two fronts: it ensures that you get the facts right, and it also proves to your antagonist that you're listening to what your antagonist is saying. This is another disarming tactic up your sleeve!

That said, discussion should be a two-way street – and so, you should make your point of view known, as well. Just don't beat it into the ground! The point in discussing is to turn a negative confrontation into a positive one – not to win points…


The fourth "D" refers to determining a course of action that appropriately addresses your antagonist’s concerns, as well as yours. Determination is a process where you weigh the good, the bad, and the indifferent, so you can form a conclusion and a course of action.

You use determination to quickly turn a negative confrontation into a useful action plan.

Decide and proceed

Having made a determination, you then decide on a course of action and proceed to put that course of action into effect. Follow through with addressing your antagonist’s concerns so that you can both have a resolution to the confrontation.

In conclusion

Negative or threatening confrontations can be easily turned to positive power. All it takes are these Five D's. The D’s help establish effective communication, build bridges and restore rapport with your “antagonist” – why did I choose that word!

You probably can’t choose what type of co-workers or customers you will get, or even how your children, spouses, employees, and so on will turn out to be in the long run. Its possible people around you are stressing you out persistently in these sorts of negative confrontations.

But you can choose how you react to manage the confrontations and live peacefully and positively them.

Do you have confrontational employees, or spouse/partner?

I’ve just given you a five-step formula for managing negative or threatening confrontational situations with such people so you can enjoy a stress-free coexistence with people like that in your life.

Video: Andrew Hutson on managing confrontation in tense situations


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