The very word “confrontation” can induce feelings of negativity as it is often linked to the potential for aggression. When one person approaches another with an important issue that demands discussion or negotiation, both participants will be giving plenty of thought to how to handle confrontation. The desired outcome of any exchange in communication is a positive solution where both parties reach agreement without fear, guilt or aggression causing any damage to the relationship they share.
Handling confrontation well is all about concentrating on dealing with the issues, and NOT about making the conversation a personal attack. For example, a supervisor has to confront a worker with the fact that this person’s attitude is not acceptable. The supervisor may be a little nervous, knowing that this particular message is a negative reflection on that worker’s performance. The worker will no doubt be immediately on the defensive and that of course, can elicit the “fight or flight” response. Both individuals in this difficult, yet not uncommon situation need to be aware of the best approach to take in how to handle confrontation.
The supervisor will need to remain calm and professional, he or she must choose the right time and place for the confrontation, and most important, must produce evidence that supports the problem of an unacceptable attitude. He or she must also be prepared to check the worker’s understanding of why they are being confronted, using questions like, “Were you aware that….happened?” or “Have you had a chance to read our staff manual?” Use anything that allows the confrontation to move from the personal to the professional level. Then, the supervisor must really listen to the answers, so reducing tension and helping to identify areas for improvement. When confronting in this way, accusations should not be thrown at the other person, but instead, keep the thought in mind “Benefit of the doubt” and this should help.
The worker who is confronted with evidence of unacceptable behavior and attitude should also try to remain calm, listen and acknowledge that what is being said is not a personal attack, but a chance to explain and to learn how to do better. This is not always easy; nobody likes to be put on the spot for less-than-perfect performance or behavior. It is tempting to run away, storm out (flight), or to become aggressive and loud in denials (fight). Neither of these responses will help to handle confrontation.
The example given here can be extended to apply to any confrontational situation. Handling it well is all about staying calm, fair, honest and focused on the issues, not the person. Whether one person is on the receiving end, or delivering the “bad news,” both need to bear all these facts in mind. Confronting an issue often leads to positive outcomes, learning and better performance. It can clear the air with cathartic benevolence and can improve relationships, working or otherwise. With grace and honesty, everyone can learn how to handle confrontation.