Conflict Resolution

Confronting Constructively: 4 Tips

In the social sciences, researchers determine the true impact of variable things by changing one variable and keeping everything else the same, then observing the result.

I experienced something similar recently when I was confronted by two very real people on the same day. I’ll call them Albert and Ziggy. It was like a science experiment in that the situations surrounding the confrontations were almost identical. I had met both confronters on the same day two months before – we had been working on the same team and project together, and I am their immediate supervisor. They both do the same job for me, and they both, separately, confronted me about emails I had sent the day before.

However, at the end of my conversation with Albert, I trusted and felt closer to him than ever before, while after Ziggy and I talked, I felt a fairly irresistible urge to avoid him.

What made the impact of these two confrontations so different?

Albert did four things that Ziggy didn’t.  They are simple things anyone can do. So, below are four tips for your next confrontation, courtesy of Albert and Ziggy:

1. Make sure the conversation is private

It sounds basic, but Ziggy reminded me that it’s simply not always done. When Ziggy began the conversation with me in the back of the van, he probably did it because it was easy for him to slide into the topic while we were sitting together. But while he was talking, I was trying to guess how others in the van would interpret my possible responses. In reality I was navigating multiple relationships. Granted, it was a bit awkward when Albert said, “Can I talk to you over here?” (as he motioned with his finger), but once we found a space and sat down, I was concentrating on just one person.

2. Don’t tell the person what you observe about their personality, traits or feelings.

Ziggy said that the number of emails I sent and the time of day I sent them showed I was overanxious. I was anxious, but in my opinion it was for a darn good reason. When he told me how I was feeling and suggested there was something wrong with it, it felt like an attack. While I managed my defensiveness, I tried to figure out if he was concerned about me or irritated with me. Again, this made things far more complicated than necessary.

Note for those of us who like to talk about feelings: I would have felt cared for if Ziggy had asked about my feelings and what having those feelings was like for me before telling me his thoughts about my feelings. In fact, I would have enjoyed the deep discussion.

3. Explain the negative impact of the person’s behaviour on yourself.

Albert pointed out I had sent two emails to the group in two days:  One contained an incorrect date; another an incorrect time.  He observed that this resulted in a long and hard-to-follow email chain as the group corrected the inaccuracies while chiming in on other topics.

4. Be ready with a clear, doable example of what you would like the person to do differently.

Albert wanted me to take the time to check all the details before I sent anything out.  No problem. Done.  I left the conversation with a sense of clarity, confidence and desire to work with Albert more.

Constructive confrontation relies on small things that make a big difference in the outcome: Speak privately, explain impact rather than your assessment of the person, and discuss what could be done differently.

This blog is a sample from an upcoming book by ACHIEVE Publishing.  The book will draw heavily on “A Great Place to Work” Survey.  We hope you participate in the short survey – we would love to hear your input.


Mike Labun

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

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