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5 Strategies to Smoothly Handle a Workplace Confrontation

Co. ExistJanuary 20, 2021

Some situations at work urgently require a confrontation. Maybe it’s a gripe you have with your coworker, your boss, your neighbor, or even your spouse.

But instead of confronting the problem, you ignore it. You rationalize away having the conversation by saying, “it’s not that big of a deal,” or “the confrontation will make it worse,” or “it’ll work itself out.”

Instead, the problem festers and grows, until you’re reading into every text, email, and Slack message for proof that the person has it out for you. And yes, the act of confronting someone can be awkward, uncomfortable, and stressful. For these reasons many people avoid confrontations altogether.

As the CEO of a growing company, I see confrontations as one of the most important ways to maintain positivity and productivity at work, and at home. Here are a few strategies for making your next confrontation a success.

Don’t sugarcoat things

One of the simplest ways to begin a confrontation is to acknowledge that it will be uncomfortable. It seems counterintuitive, since you would think keeping things as positive as possible would only help, but doing so actually hurts your chances of success. When you begin your conversation with compliments and kind words, the person on the other end winds up waiting for your inevitable but. Starting the conversation off directly, without wrapping it in rosy prose, sets the scene for a more open dialogue about the problem at hand.

By preparing someone with the knowledge the conversation will be difficult, you tell the person what to expect and let them know you would like to address areas that are important to you. For example, consider starting the conversation by saying, “I wanted to talk to you about something important to me. I’ve been avoiding this conversation for a long time, and I’m hoping you can let me finish my thoughts before you interject.” These opening sentences establish the intent of your conversation and also make it clear that you would like the opportunity to speak without interruption.

Use “I,” instead of “you” or “we,” statements

Putting someone on the defensive will only hurt your confrontation. When someone is in a defensive state, they are thinking solely of protecting themselves and deflecting shots in their direction. This state of mind is not conducive to active listening, which will make it impossible for your conversation to be successful. Instead, phrase everything you say with “I” and avoid needlessly incendiary language.

For example, don’t tell someone that, “You didn’t listen to me and deliberately ignored what I said—despite how satisfying that might feel—because their response to that language will be to fight instead of listen. Instead, rephrase and appeal to emotion by saying, “The way our meeting went made me feel like my opinion didn’t matter to you.”

You should also avoid “we” statements. These types of statements imply you’re having conversations about the person behind their back. Keep your conversation between you and the other person, without referencing or scapegoating other individuals. For example, “We are all unhappy with your tardiness” is not effective, while “I have been unhappy you have been late” is a much more constructive statement.

Stick to the facts, not emotions

The easiest mistake you can make in a confrontation is slipping from purely factual content to opinions derived from your emotions. Remember, emotions are not facts. Let’s say you’re upset with someone for being consistently late to a meeting. It’s effective to say: “You were late on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday of this week. That is unacceptable and has to change,” rather than, “it’s clear you don’t care about being on time because you’re always late.” Stick to the facts, and you’ll find your confrontations going much more smoothly.

An important side note: If the person you are talking to disputes some of your facts, don’t get defensive yourself. Listen to them and be willing to accept that you may be wrong about one or more of the facts while still being correct about the issue at hand.

Control meeting hijacking

People are quite good at deflecting to avoid addressing issues head-on. For example, the person could get emotional and pivot to talking about a personal issue. When this happens, the natural tendency is for you to go into “soothing” mode and comfort the person and talk about that personal issue with them in the moment. Resist that temptation, reinforce the reason for the conversation, and offer to speak about their personal issue another time. Remember: this confrontation is your conversation. Listen intently and don’t interrupt the person venting, but make sure to get back on track and take control of the conversation to ensure you get out of it what you needed.

It’s worth noting that some confrontations get emotional. In the rare situation that someone gets very temperamental, angry, starts crying and/or lashes out, offer to reschedule the conversation for another date or time where the person can be calm and focused.

Keep in mind the relationship

The entire point of having a confrontation is to get to a better, more productive place in your relationship with the person. Be clear about what bothers you, what your expectations are for the future, and let the person respond and commit to what you’re looking for.

Navigating confrontations successfully is an art form. The amazing thing about them, however, is if you use these tools and techniques, you will be more consistently happy, positive, and productive in and outside of work.

Corey Weiner is CEO of Jun Group, a New-York-based company delivering full screen video, display, and rich media campaigns for advertisers, which helps to drives millions of opt-in page views for leading publishers.


This article was written by Corey Weiner from Co. Exist and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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