Managing Confrontation: How to Make a Bad Situation Better

Knowing how to successfully manage confrontation is a skill that all leaders need in their toolkit. So if you’ve been avoiding confrontation for fear of doing more harm than good, read on. These steps to managing confrontation will help you more effectively resolve those uncomfortable situations.

8 Steps for Managing Confrontation

How often do you experience clashing attitudes or ideas with — or among — your employees? How frequently are you called upon to mediate or resolve situations where team members don’t see eye to eye? I’m betting it happens — alot. 

As leaders, we know these problems need to be addressed, but most of us hate confrontation. We find these situations uncomfortable and full of emotional minefields, and as a result, we avoid managing confrontation.

We say things like, “this will only make matters worse” or “I’m not sure I can control my emotions.” “Maybe if I give it some time, the issue will resolve itself.” Do any of these sound familiar? Probably so. Unfortunately, it is, at best, wishful thinking.

Every leader’s toolkit should include knowing how to successfully manage confrontation. So if you’ve been avoiding confrontation for fear of doing more harm than good, read on — these techniques for managing confrontation will help you more effectively resolve those uncomfortable situations.

#1: Prepare yourself in advance.

First, clearly determine the cause for the confrontation. Are you addressing a performance issue, an unacceptable attitude or perhaps a safety issue? Also determine the goal for the confrontation. What do you want to achieve? How do you want to be perceived after the confrontation? With these answers in mind, it will be easier to stay on target during the confrontation.

#2: Don’t procrastinate if a confrontation is necessary.

Many leaders try to convince themselves that the problem with work itself out or dissipate if left alone. Putting off what needs to be addressed allows more time for emotions to grow and frustrations to fester. The reality is that bad news does not get better with time.

#3: Avoid extreme emotional involvement.

Never try managing confrontation when you are emotionally charged. This is difficult, but that is why preparing yourself in advance is so important.

#4: Choose carefully the time and place for the confrontation.

Go behind closed doors if possible. Confrontation in front of an audience invites embarrassment and offers undue opportunities for “emotional performances.” Consider timing the confrontation at the end of the work day. This gives the other person an easy exit for cooling off and considering the issue.

#5: Work to determine the other person’s driving needs.

Try to evaluate the issue from other vantage points. Don’t make assumptions, instead ask questions to confirm or refute your impressions. (Use these 6 questions to improve the results of any of your communication efforts.)

#6: Willing accept some measure of responsibility for the situation.

If managing confrontation effectively is your goal, admitting fault if you are to blame, in part or in total, goes along way toward diffusing many conflicting situations.

#7: Allow the other person time to vent.

You have had the advantage of sorting through your emotions before initiating this confrontation. Give the other person the same opportunity.

#8: Zero in on the problem, not the person.

Negative confrontation focuses on the person, but positive confrontation focuses on the problem. Frame the conversation in terms of specific expectations for future performance. Encourage feedback regarding alternative solutions or approaches for managing the issue.

After the dust settles…

You may not find a solution immediately. And you may never completely agree on the issue. But a leader’s responsibility is to address difficult issues and ensure steps are taken to work toward a mutually agreeable solution. It’s hard work, but great leaders know the results are worth the effort.

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Phillip Van Hooser
Author: Phillip Van Hooser
Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by transforming the talent of their people. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on leadership, service and communication. His popular book, “Willie's Way: 6 Secrets for Wooing, Wowing and Winning Customers and Their Loyalty” re-releases September 3. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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