Handled appropriately, confrontation done well allows you and your team to consider differing opinions, ideas, and assumptions with passive aggressive or victim-y behavior less likely to come into play. This, in turn, leads to greater buy-in and accountability.
Still, you are so trained to avoid confrontation that you probably haven’t taken many chances to practice it. If you’re rusty on your confrontation skills, here’s how to confront issues and assert yourself without completely alienating everyone:
1. Be humble enough to know that you only have part of the story.
When you decide to confront an issue, realize you may not have all the information and that you will learn more as you talk to the other person(s). While the information you have may be troubling or disappointing, remember that you have interpreted the information you gathered and created a narrative in your head that is consistent with the way only you see the world. There may be missing pieces that add a completely different spin on the issue.
If the information you have initially makes your blood boil, take at least a day to cool off and focus on the actual facts you have with the idea that the purpose for confronting this issue is to make sure you are seeing the issue from angles other than your perspective to round out the story.
2. Open with the facts.
As you start the confrontation, and after the usual “thanks for meeting with me today”, open with the facts. These facts may come from your own observations, collected data, or from others’ reports or complaints.
Facts are different from your interpretation and include who, what, when, where, and how. Starting with facts will help you set forth the context the issue surrounding the issue, the words and deeds of those involved, and the resulting impact those words and deeds had on the company, the team, customers, or others.
When you open with the facts, you need only recite what has transpired. This simple starting point helps you get over the awkward speed bump of what to say first and is grounded in concrete information that isn’t merely your opinion or hyperbole. Also, the facts focus the other party’s attention on exactly the issue at hand, which tends to cut off his/her options for deflecting blame.
3. Test the facts.
After putting forth the facts you have, turn over the conversation to the other person with a question, like “Do I have this right?” or “What was going on?” or “Did this situation go as planned?” This allows the other person to agree with the facts you have, add more, or tell you they experienced the situation differently.
4. Listen for others’ reactions.
As the other person talks, instead of listening for how you can argue back, listen for what’s at stake for him or her or any commitment that comes through. You may find that what you thought was a big issue, isn’t. Or if there is indeed an issue to address, you can then use the information provided to help paint a bigger picture for the other person, so you can both get on the same page. From here you can renew or establish commitments to each other.
5. Agree on a plan of action and follow up.
Before you leave the confrontation, schedule a future meeting to follow up on the issue and any commitments you made to each other.
Confrontation does not need to be an angry exchange. Healthy confrontation helps clear up misunderstandings or misinterpretations and get those involved back on track. When you master confrontation, you increase understanding among co-workers, which increases the ability to work together productively.