Dealing with Confrontation

Scott Dylan

Confrontations are an unavoidable management element, whether it’s informing a customer that a project has been delayed or presiding over an unenthusiastic performance assessment. What can be done to prepare for a talk like this? How can managers and employees come up with the correct phrases in the heat of the moment? And, more importantly, how can the conversation be managed so that it runs as smoothly as possible?

What Experts Have to Say

Former arbitrage trader Helen Lee Schifter says the best piece of advice is for coworkers to always endeavor to communicate with respect and understanding.

Here’s how to get what is needed out of these difficult conversations while maintaining professional relationships.

Make a Mental Shift

When preparing for a “tough” talk, fear and dread are common emotions to feel beforehand. Schifter suggests trying to present things in a more positive way instead.

Breathe

Helen Lee Schifter believes that to become better at handling uncomfortable conversations, remember to breathe and find balance. For example, if a coworker approaches with a problem that could lead to a difficult talk, take a break — get a cup of coffee or take a quick walk around the office — and be sure to breathe to enhance feelings of calm and well being.

Plan Ahead of Time, But Don’t Follow a Script

Before the conversation, scribbling down notes and key points can help with planning what to say. However, writing a script is a waste of time. It’s highly improbable that everything will go according to plan. Moreover, because the other party doesn’t know the “lines,” it comes across as strangely unnatural when deviating from the script.

Concentrate on Adding Value

Confrontation implies approaching someone with a hostile intent one on one. Examine why this meeting is being held in the first place. How might this dialogue be seen differently if the intent is possibly harmful to the other person? Inquire about how this dialogue adds value to all persons involved and the organization as a whole. If neither the other party nor the company stands to gain from the talk, it’s best to avoid it altogether.

Focus on the facts.

First, figure out what the goal of the conversation is. Next, write down what happened, making sure to be as accurate as possible. Next, acknowledge any personal role in the circumstance and accept responsibility for it. It will help in avoiding a pattern that doesn’t bear repeating. Finally, in terms of approach, consider the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Be Self-Assured While Remaining Open to Change

Make sure the person in the mirror is not actually the one in the wrong before approaching the person who needs to be confronted. If someone enters a conversation expecting a problem, that’s exactly what is likely to happen. In a confrontation, always have good intentions. If necessary, seek mediation. Remember that everyone’s reputation precedes them, so speak clearly and professionally.

Final Thoughts

Label the facts that need delivering as a “difficult topic”; and then frame the dialogue in a positive or neutral light. Make a screenplay for how the conversation should go; write notes if it helps, but be flexible.

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