If you’ve worked for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced conflict with a co-worker, customer or vendor. We’d like to think a simple conversation will resolve the conflict or that it will just go away. Sadly, the reality is that of the 85% of US employees that dealt with workplace conflict, 16% escalated or increased in intensity. Workplace conflict leads to stress, decreased productivity and reduced morale. It has been reported that 25% of US employees call in sick due to work conflict. The only way to deal with workplace conflict is through a healthy confrontation that benefits both people. I always find it easiest to confront a situation, rather than a person. We can confront another person out of anger or frustration, but that won’t likely yield the results you want. It will only escalate the situation. When we learn how to have healthy confrontations, we create a much healthier and less toxic work (or home) environment.
People fear confrontation because they think it has to involve a fight. So they avoid it. This leads to a continuation of the conflict along with the stress, fear, and low morale. The reality is, people fear confrontation much more than they should. Confront simply means to face up to and deal with a problem or difficult situation. Confrontation is an essential career skill right up there with networking, communication, and negotiation.
Keys to Healthy Confrontation
Gather your thoughts
Ask yourself some questions and be honest with yourself.
- Why did this conflict occur?
- How did I contribute to it?
- Are there factors outside of my control that created this problem?
Familiarizing yourself with the background and contributing factors help you to better understand the conflict. Now might be the time to do some soul-searching to see if you’ve been too rigid, or if you’re not pulling your weight. Rather than be confronted in a public setting, face the truth about yourself prior to the confrontation. After you’ve dealt honestly with your part in the conflict, continue to look at what lead to the problem with a critical but objective eye.
Get all the facts together
In this post-truth and fake-news era, it’s important to deal with facts and not just hearsay and opinion. When looking back on the conflict, deal only with facts. In a healthy confrontation, we don’t try to assume what a person was thinking or what their motivation was. We just report back on what happened. If the problem has been ongoing, document all interactions so you have an accurate record of events. Keep a record of times, dates, conversations & impact. Let the facts speak for themselves.
Keep your emotions in check
If a conflict has gotten to the place of confrontation, it’s likely that it’s impacted your emotions. It’s healthy to deal with emotions in an honest way, but the key here is not to take these emotions into the confrontation. It’s ok to acknowledge to your boss or the other person how the conflict has affected you, but not to demonstrate those emotions at this point. Unfortunately, there are still people who feel women are too emotional to lead or that men who express their emotions don’t make good leaders. We can’t always change people’s attitudes, but we can try to level the playing field by keeping our composure and responding calmly to other’s emotions. If someone responds in anger, do your best not to respond the same way. Maintaining your composure helps you to achieve credibility and this goes a long way when confronting another person.
Express yourself clearly and concisely
You want to make sure you’re expressing yourself in a manner that is clear to the listener. Aim for the balance of communicating all of the facts without being long-winded. If you need to, write down your points on a piece of paper or record them on your phone to use as a guideline. You want to ensure that you’re not leaving out any important pieces of information and that you don’t go off on unrelated tangents.
Listen Actively to the other side
Both sides need to be heard during a confrontation, regardless of who’s at fault. Listen actively and without judgment regardless of what has already happened. Wait until the other person has finished speaking before you answer. When we listen actively to the other person we show genuine concern for their situation and we also build trust with them. This is especially important at this stage because the ultimate goal of the confrontation is to work toward a solution that helps both parties. The goal is to remove the conflict and restore the relationship, not only to say your piece.
Work towards a mutual solution
You might be surprised when your healthy confrontation turns into a beneficial negotiation. One of the key goals of negotiation is to find a win/win situation. Both parties may not get 100% of what they want, but if both sides can leave happy, then the negotiation has been successful. When working toward a solution, both parties will have to do some give and take. As stressful as confrontation can be, it’s always worth it in the end. Are you willing to do what it takes to create a stress-free workplace? Do you want to make your workplace less toxic for you and your co-workers? Then it might be time to confront an unhealthy situation. Your place of work (or your home) should be a place where you don’t have to live in fear of constant conflict. Learning how to confront a situation is one key to creating an environment you can be yourself in.