5 Steps to Mastering the Fine Art of Work Confrontation
We are all faced with uncomfortable issues at work some times. Someone does or doesn’t do something that is an issue with agreements, work flow or your values. Plain and simple, it creates a problem for you; and you are now faced with how best to tackle the issue.
All too often, we simply try to ignore things, hoping the problem will just go away. Sometimes it will, but you can’t count on ignoring an issue as a method of problem solving. It’s too passive. And leaving it alone may reinforce it or even cause it to get worse. Sure, you can wait to take any action so you can further observe the issue while you are deciding on what you will do. That is not ignoring the issue; it’s planning.
For those issues which impact you and your work, you need to master the fine art of confrontation. Confrontation doesn’t need to be a vicious attack on someone else, nor does it need to be cringe worthy. Confrontation is part of problem solving. Unlike other issues you solve at work, confrontation is looking for a person to modify their behavior as your primary solution. Other business problems are solved by a combination of system, process, policy and people. Learning to confront issues with people behavior is a tool which you will find extremely valuable.
- Focus on the problem. The first step in learning confrontation is to ensure you are looking at and solving the problem. Many people in these situations become offended and take other people’s actions as a personal affront. When that occurs, they will often make up stories to fit the behavior, like “the person is back stabbing” or “the person has it out for me”. Rarely, does another person give too much thought to how their actions affect others, so being paranoid doesn’t help. Take the attitude that this person has some reason for doing what they are doing and probably doesn’t realize the impact to you.
- Drop the emotions. If you have really stepped into a problem solving space, you have to drop the stories and emotions in order to be effective. If you are waiting too long, you may be allowing yourself to get so worked up over your stories that when you do confront, you will go from a great problem solver to an explosive jerk in a split second. If you allow your emotions to drive your actions, you will lose in many ways.
- Script out what you want to say. Until you master confrontation, it will go much better if you write down word for word what you want to say and how you want to say it. You don’t want to you use judgmental words or absolutes like “you always” or “you never”. That is simply untrue, unproductive and will put the other person on the defensive. Keep your comments focused on solving the problem.
- You are there to solve a problem, so what is the issue? If the other person is doing something and it’s ticking you off, you really do need to understand what the issue or impact is. To simply tell someone to stop doing something isn’t helpful. For example, if they are dropping into your office and eating up a bunch of your time with their important agenda, you can easily solve that problem. Before they descend on you, go to their office and say “I notice you really want my help with x fairly frequently. If you think that will continue, I’d like to schedule regular times for us to meet so I can plan the rest of my work schedule. Would that work for you?”
- Be specific. You’ll notice in the above example that I needed to find out if the demand would continue and then make my request for how to proceed. No attack, simply coming up with an alternative that should work for both people. If it doesn’t, then you have a place to begin joint problem solving.
Confrontation doesn’t need to be an ugly thing if you adjust your thinking and approach to solving an issue with a co-worker.
Brought to you by Dorothy Tannahill-Moran – dedicated to unleash your professional potential.