How to confront someone at work is one of the biggest challenges I am asked about.

But it doesn’t have to be a problem! In fact, the positive results of thoughtful candor can change work lives in wonderful ways.

Conflict isn’t good or bad. It just happens when people see the world differently.

Since we all have different life experiences, values, and priorities, it’s not uncommon for you and a colleague to have different viewpoints. It doesn’t mean someone is wrong, but it does mean you are operating from different interpretations, and its useful to sort it out.

The key is to learn how to transform conflict into learning experience. It’s an opportunity to challenge your brain by thinking differently, so you can uncover common interests and work towards a better future.

Confrontation can actually be valuable to you and the people you work with.

Caring confrontation is way to work with your colleagues from a place of compassion. You do this by bringing to their attention a different perspective, interpretation, or unintended impact.

When we behave like partners with our co-worker and teammates, we value their perspective, and build trust that we also have useful ways of thinking to bring to the table.

Positive confrontation has many benefits to team culture including increasing trust, collaboration, innovation, and quality of work products. If you can’t be candid and talk about what matters, it’s harder to make forward progress. Yet, we often hold back our thoughts in hopes that our lack of confrontation will make it easier to move forward. Instead, learn to raise and resolve issues and you will find your voice can create tremendous changes.

To reduce your discomfort with confrontation, here are 6 ways to help you master positive confrontation and position yourself as a leader.

1. What is in it for them?

Everyone has different perspectives, so try to see how the other person is viewing the situation. When you come from a place where both of you can benefit, then everyone feels supported and is more open to discussing a solution. Ensure you can state their perspective from a place of respect before you begin the conversation.

“It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to your enemies, but even more to stand up to your friends.”

—J. K. Rowling

2. Prepare

Take a few moments to gather your thoughts before you speak. Confrontation can often create strong emotions with a knee-jerk reaction to express them. Instead, use your emotion as a gateway showing you the importance of addressing the needs of the situation. What underlies the emotions? What is really important to you? Consider what you can do to help move toward the result you care most about.

3. Get Permission

Ask one of the following questions (or make one of your own) so that you create a readiness to hear what you want to say.

  • May I share an observation with you?
  • Would you mind if I share some feedback that I think will help us both?
  • May I offer a suggestion?

4. Ask for something positive

Once you’ve gotten permission to offer your thoughts, use a neutral, gentle tone of voice. Speaking your anger, blame, or criticism will not be productive in moving towards a solution, even though you may feel strongly that way. Instead of calling out the behavior you don’t want, such as, “I am so upset that you didn’t appreciate my hard work!” you could say instead, “Can we take a moment to appreciate all the effort that we’ve put into this project before we discuss how to improve it?”

Ask for what you want, instead of just sharing what you’re upset about, or what you don’t want. The most powerful forms of caring confrontation help people change by asking for a positive alternative.

5. Listen Carefully

Next, be quiet and listen. It’s important to understand the other person’s point of view, data points and concerns by listening carefully to what they say, Ask questions if you’re confused. They may mention things you hadn’t thought of yet. In your listening, the goal is to get a complete and caring picture of how the other person is seeing the situation so that you can be partners in refining a solution.

6. “Feedforward” to Get Results

Focus on a future that addresses everyone’s concerns. As a leader, make it your goal to conquer caring confrontation. Speak from a place of truth and express your needs, while still respecting the needs of others, and doing the service of sharing your truth. This respecting and caring approach to conflict is so much more effective and allows you to learn from every situation. Plan to take actions that will positively impact the relationship as you move forward.

Some situations won’t get better when you confront them, but these situations become teachers in learning how to influence and lead proactively. It takes courage to step forward.

Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.

—William James

I hope these steps can help you learn and grow, but if you’d like more personalized guidance for a challenging situation you need to confront, visit my Services and Products page to learn how we can work together, one-on-one.

Geek Notes:
Radical Candor 
Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility Kindle Edition by Patty McCord (Author)

Jessica Hartung

Jessica Hartung is a partner, coach, and guide for those leveling-up their personal professional leadership, their teams, and their communities to a better future.

Jessica has a passion for inspiring and preparing people to grow from their work to improve their lives. In 1998, she founded Integrated Work, a consulting firm that brings top-notch professional development to mission-driven leaders, while being a learning laboratory for innovative work practices.

Jessica provides self-directed professional development tools to leaders at all levels striving to create positive impact.

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