It’s common knowledge that humans tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which explains why we are so quick to steer clear of confrontation. We fear that addressing problems will create hostility, hurt feelings, or fail to fix the problem we had to begin with. That’s valid.
However, when executed properly, confrontation can actually strengthen interpersonal relationships by building trust and opening communication. It can also improve productivity and facilitate personal growth.
So should you rip off the Band-Aid and let your work relationships heal? Yes, we think so. Let’s get you headed in a constructive, pro-conflict direction. These are three simple tips that will help you hone your conflict management skills.
Read more: The 5 Conflict Management Styles
3 keys to healthy and constructive confrontation
1. Try to be as transparent as possible
You may have heard of the Feedback Sandwich, the method in which you start off your confrontation with a compliment, get into your criticism, and end on another positive note. For those of us who hate putting others on the spot, this may feel like a great way to soften the blow. However, the Feedback Sandwich will actually create more confusion for your coworker and is shown to be highly ineffective in solving problems, according to the Harvard Business Review. Instead of trying to sugarcoat things, HBR suggests a fully transparent approach. Tell your coworker you have concerns you want to address with them, but let them know you may not have a full grasp of what’s going on and are open to hearing their perspective too! This shows you want to learn and is a better means to go about 1) making sure your coworker is comfortable and 2) being clear about your intentions. Transparent confrontation is the way to go.
2. Tone is everything
Social science experts have found that nonverbal cues are extremely important to the way other people perceive us. In fact, tone of voice encompasses 38 percent of our communication, which means the way you say something is almost equally as important as what you say. This should take some of the burden off you in terms of finding exactly the right words to use with your coworker. You don’t have to to memorize a speech and run through possible scenarios beforehand! Using a calm tone, keeping your cool, and smiling are nonverbal cues that ensure your criticism and feedback are well-received, even if you don’t get to say everything you wanted.
3. Be SMART and articulate your plans for the future
It’s important to discuss next steps with the person you’re confronting. Identifying the behaviors you want changed is the easy part; actually recognizing how they can be changed is the challenge. Forbes suggests using the SMART approach, or setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Maybe your coworker constantly slacks off and leaves you scrambling to finish their work on top of your own. In that case, you may ask them to schedule monthly meetings with you to keep them accountable to deadlines and improve on time management. If the issue is more personal—maybe they like to gossip in the workplace, and you feel it’s unprofessional to do so—you could suggest getting drinks or hanging out outside work once a week to talk about non-work-related things but ask that they keep the workplace strictly professional. Proposing SMART solutions shows you care about having a strong relationship with your coworker.
In case it didn’t work...
In spite of having good intentions, it’s always possible that your confrontation will either be received poorly or fail to result in the change you desired. Given that you’ve already tried to resolve the situation on your own, you shouldn’t shy away from seeking help! Talking to a sympathetic colleague, a boss, or an HR manager can provide you with emotional support and give you a new, unbiased perspective on how to proceed moving forward. According to workplace psychologist Amy Cooper Hakim, “It’s to everyone’s benefit to fix these problems.” By being proactive with your resources and searching for solutions, you’re not only helping yourself but you’re also improving the workplace as a whole.