1. Remember it's just your job.
In my private life, I hate confrontation! It's precarious ground negotiating private relationships with people you care about. But when I have my professional gear on, I've always felt more empowered. In my line of work, you are expected to confront. If I ever have a contentious interview and I find out that the guest was unhappy, I'll go to them and say, "Look, this is my job. If you're gonna come on prime time at the Fox News Channel, where we have to cover a lot in three minutes, it's going to have to be hard-hitting. If you can't handle that, you shouldn't be here." I've had to rise to that occasion, too, as the host.
2. Pick your battles.
When I was fresh out of law school at age 25, I was the only female lawyer in our office. My boss kept asking me to copy cases for him, and he never asked the male lawyers. I resolved that I would confront him. I planned exactly what I would say, which took away some of the nerves. I said, "If you want me to make a copy and come in and have a discussion as lawyers, I'll do that, but I won't copy that case for you." I saw him go red in the face and he started yelling, and it was a scary moment. My heart was pounding. I was worried I was about to be fired on the spot. But I had planned my follow-up too. I said, "Bob, if you want to speak to me like a professional, then we can have that conversation. Otherwise, this conversation is over for now." He was so mad, he wound up calling the head partners of the firm. They told him, "Not only is she right, but we don't ever want to hear about your asking an associate of this law firm to copy cases again." It was so important for me. You only need to do that once, and forever more you have that power. And as for my old boss Bob, he and I went on to coauthor articles and try cases together, because I had earned his respect.
3. Don't make yourself a victim.
We all know people who make everything into a confrontation and walk around as victims. Other than cruelty, I can't think of anything much more unattractive than making yourself into a victim. And women do it too often. They chalk up their lack of a promotion or the advancement of someone else to their own bad luck. They lash out at someone for being unfair to them as opposed to asking, "How can I change the situation? What did I do that led me into this situation? How can I stop doing that and get better results?"
4. Match their energy.
As a first-year lawyer, I learned how to mirror other people's body language, and it really works. If somebody comes in upset and fired up saying, "What happened?!" it is totally inappropriate for you to say, "I don't know. I'm very sorry," in a low voice. You have to say firmly, "You're right! That should not have happened, and I'm on it!" And vice versa, you might need to take it down a notch if that person is down a notch. Just by matching the other person's energy and delivery, you make them feel heard and validated. Of course, if I had an opposing counsel who was trying to pummel me, I would not try to mirror them, because they were an adversary. I would calmly say, "You seem upset. Do you need to take a break?" Oh, they hated that. And I loved it.
5. Give it a minute.
Whenever anybody phones you angry, give it as much time as you reasonably can before you return the call. Think about when you're the person who is angry: You fire off something in an email or there's a phone call. And then an hour or two passes, and you're like, "All right, it wasn't that big of a deal." Or something will happen in the interim to bring it down. I can tell you, I've saved myself so many times by doing that.
6. Keep the focus on you.
Whether it's a work confrontation or a breakup, you may spend weeks obsessing about the other guy. Did I screw that up? Did I say the wrong thing? Am I what he wants? But you're focusing on the wrong person. It's not whether he likes you, it's whether you like him. It's about whether he did the right thing toward you. All the energy we put into contentious relationships, if you funnel all that energy back into yourself, everything works out. You become a more interesting person, you attract the right people into your life, and life gets better for you.