Confrontation in the workplace can be incredibly stressful to deal with.
This may be particularly true if you’re a manager who highly values team collaboration and harmony. At the heart of it, conflict is a state where people are simply not in harmony with one another. Which may not sit well with you.
In an attempt to restore harmony as quickly as possible, you may be inclined to avoid conflict. Being faced with people who are confrontational may simply leave you wanting to run in the opposite direction.
The problem is that when you don’t address it, conflict continues to brew under the surface. It goes underground for a while. Until it gets worse. Until it gets to a point where you have no choice but to deal with it.
Here are some tips that may help you address confrontation in the workplace more effectively:
1. Address conflict and confrontation in the workplace early on
It’s all too easy to avoid conflict and confrontation until the situation reaches a point where it absolutely needs to be dealt with.
When the check engine light comes on in our car, most people don’t ignore it until the car breaks down on the side of the highway. Avoiding conflict until it intensifies is the same thing as waiting until your car breaks down to call a mechanic. It simply makes the problem worse.
Although it may feel difficult and scary, addressing conflict as soon as it appears truly is easier than dealing with the fallout of conflict that has been festering for months (or years!).
Make a commitment to yourself to address it as soon as it appears.
2. Embrace the benefits of addressing conflict
Instead of viewing conflict as threatening and scary, remind yourself that working through conflict is actually a step towards collaboration, harmony, and teamwork. This will help to propel you towards it, rather than convincing you to run.
3. Address conflict in person
Although this may provoke some anxiety, try your best to address conflict in person, directly with the person involved (or nowadays, on a video call, if necessary).
Seeing one another face-to-face, rather than discussing the issue by phone or email, makes it easier to read the other person’s non-verbal body language. You’ll be less likely to misunderstand one another.
If dealing with confrontation currently leads you to feel extremely anxious, then start by doing so via email and then gradually work your way up to in-person conversations.
4. Focus on the behaviour, not the person.
When people start to focus on personal traits and characteristics that are being framed in a negative light, the conversation never ends well. To keep the conversation productive, stay out of this realm entirely. Talking about the behaviours and actions that are problematic.
If you find the other person heading down the road of bringing personal characteristics into the conversation, ask them to stick to discussing the problem behaviours.
5. Acknowledge the other person’s point of view
Part of what makes negotiating confrontation so hard is that it often escalates quickly. As this happens, we tend to get more stuck in our own perspective. Validating the other person’s perspective before you share yours will help the other person feel that you’ve understood what they’ve shared, even if you disagree. This prevents conversations from becoming as reactive, allowing you to discuss differences of opinion more smoothly.
6. Assert your own point of view
Just as it’s important to acknowledge what the other person says, it’s equally important to share your thoughts when you disagree. Acknowledging their point of view doesn’t mean simply agreeing with everything the other person says.
For conflict to be navigated successfully, you have to hear the other person AND be willing to respectfully assert your own perspective when you disagree.
7. Stay connected to your emotional state in the moment
Our emotions often become intensified as we deal with confrontation in the workplace. You may be someone who readily shows your amplified emotions during conflict. Or you may process your emotions more internally and have a tendency to shut down.
Our reactions to the emotions that arise during conflict can significantly impact how we engage in difficult conversations. Staying connected with how you feel can help you to settle your body as difficult emotions arise. As you feel adrenaline coursing through your body, use it as a reminder to calm your body first. This is a key skill to be able to navigate conflict successfully.
8. Don’t take things personally
Whatever is being said to you, try not to take it personally. People who are angry can sometimes launch into diatribes that are meant to tear a strip off of you. The comments are most often more reflective of the other person than they are of you. Although it is absolutely justified to feel hurt by personal attacks, remind yourself that you are not someone else’s perception of you.
Better yet, let the person know that you would rather continue the conversation at a later time, when you can both discuss things more calmly.
9. View every interaction as an opportunity for growth
Learning to deal with confrontation in the workplace is not like taking Tylenol. You can’t simply read a new strategy and expect that the pain will go away immediately. Rather, each interaction you have during situations of conflict is an opportunity to practice and refine new skills.
After each situation where you’ve been brave enough to engage in conflict, take time to reflect. What went well? What did you do that led to a better outcome than before? At what point did the conversation start to derail? What you could try differently next time?
Committing to developing new habits and behaviours over time will bring you the greatest success as you learn new skills to deal with conflict and confrontation at work.
If you want additional support to help you better navigate conflict and confrontation in your role as a manager, book yourself a complimentary 30-minute discovery call. I’d be happy to help you get to the bottom of the challenges you’re experiencing once and for all.
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