Stop Dreading Confrontation by First Defusing Emotions

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When we think of confrontation, we visualize an aggressive scene. There’s arguing, hard feelings and worse … the strong possibility that after all that drama, nothing will really change.

But doing nothing isn’t a good solution. A co-worker whose constant procrastination makes your projects late isn’t going to magically start doing things on time. A team member who isn’t pulling his weight won’t suddenly turn into an overachiever. Difficult situations and people rarely transform on their own. We often need to address these issues directly and calmly.

In fact, effective, productive confrontation should be a calm interaction.

Before jumping in, a word of caution: Pick your battles. Learning to adjust to colleagues’ idiosyncrasies is part of working in the business world. Remember, there’s more than one right way to do things.

When you have made the decision that addressing the issue and confrontation is your best course, help ensure a smooth interaction by making sure the other person feels listened to and that their viewpoint has been well communicated and understood.

Here are the steps to set the tone for a smooth confrontation:

    1. Prepare. Give some thought before the conversation about the facts and feelings of all parties. Consider what the ideal resolution for everyone would look like.
    2. Schedule a time and place by nicely asking the other party to talk. Choose a private setting.
    3. When you meet, state your issue in a fact-based way. (Make this about you, not a group. Don’t say “we all feel this way.”) Then stop talking.
    4. Listen.
    5. Ensure that the other person knows you have heard them and understand their feelings.
    6. Validate how they feel about the situation, even if you disagree with the rationale.
    7. Identify the issue(s) without placing blame. Explain the impact of the issue(s).
    8. Objectively outline the facts
    9. Explain your position only when you’ve validated the other’s emotions and viewpoints. State your feelings and opinions assertively, without indicating that you expect agreement. Use “I” statements rather than pointing fingers.
    10. Ask them to shift to problem-solving mode with you. Establish realistic goals for the outcome, and get agreement.
    11. Choose your battles wisely. Know when it’s best to agree to disagree.
    12. Take a break if emotions escalate or no resolution is in sight
    13. Establish a time to reconvene (so they know they don’t win by default)
    14. When a mutually acceptable solution is met, get agreement. Ask for their commitment to help make it work.
    15. Don’t take anything personally
    16. Follow up on the situation, and make sure both parties keep their end of the bargain


When you must face a difficult issue or person directly, don’t avoid it. Instead, prepare for confrontation by working to make sure the other person feels heard and understood.

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