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How to be Comfortable with Confrontation

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A soft skill not many people work on is the ability to be comfortable with confrontation. While not as customary of an interpersonal skill to master as public speaking or team building, holding confrontational conversations is vital to your career.

Bosses and coworkers alike will appreciate your honesty. As long as you don’t complain about petty issues that aren’t actually issues and come with a recommendation for change, your boss will be happy to accommodate your wishes. Coworkers especially will appreciate your candid discussion. A quick confrontational conversation with a coworker saves you from going to your boss with a complaint, who will then go to their boss with the complaint, where that boss will likely speak to the coworker in a not as helpful way.

Remember: People aren’t mind readers.

In both personal and professional relationships, the other party does not know what you’re thinking unless you tell them. No matter how obvious you think your being about the problem, until you hold a conversation, not all of the information will be out in the open. In all seriousness, the offending party probably doesn’t know that they are doing something that upsets you, so holding a conversation is the first step to finding a solution.

Do note: confrontational conversations aren’t arguments. They are used to bring issues to the table in a calm and coherent way to produce some kind of desirable result.

How to Have a Confrontational Conversation:

  • Sit on it. Angry about something and want to call the person out right when they upset you? Think again. Wait 24 hours if possible, and an hour at the very least. The goal of confrontation isn’t to yell at someone, but to find a solution that works for both of you.
  • Plan out your points. Be able to succinctly address the issue that’s bothering you. Try to make this less about emotion (unless the issue truly is about emotion) to make the conversation most constructive. For example, one issue could be that you felt that your input was not taken into consideration during a brainstorming session.
  • Have a solution planned. Be constructive. Don’t just state the issue, but also state the requested solution. For the previous example, asking to have the floor for a few minutes during the next brainstorming session could be sufficient, or maybe you would ask to review the strategy presentation before it goes to the final viewer.
  • Don’t hold a grudge. This can be the hardest part of confrontation! If you meet with someone about an issue, give them a chance to make it right. Work relationships are important to maintain for your long-term ability to grow within a company (as well as your own sanity) so try to keep an open mind after you address a problem.
  • Follow up if necessary. If you’re conversation doesn’t lead to the desired action and it is still a big issue for you, you may need to have another conversation with the other party. If the issue is bigger than that, or you have had a conversation with little success, this may be an appropriate time to go to your boss to address the issue head on.

Similar to other soft skills, it takes time to be comfortable with confrontational conversations. Follow these few steps to continue maintaining relationships in the office and hopefully working towards what works best for everyone.

Just so you know- I was not always confrontational! When I was little, my stepmother once braided my hair in a way I didn’t like, and instead of telling her why I didn’t like it so she could fix it, I just sat there sobbing saying it was fine. But I’ve grown and blossomed, and have maybe been walked over a little too much, to grow to realize the importance of standing up for yourself in a mature and open way.

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Really great Tips, Sarah! I've always referred to these tough encounters as crucial convos, because it is a time when you and that other person will either move forward and strengthen your working relationship/team, or you'll regress with resentment and negativity which breaks down culture. SO important for anyone, especially all those managers out there!

I love that name! It is so true that these conversations really shape the strength of your working relationships.

Great tips! I definitely struggle with saying what I want, especially during confrontational conversations, but whenever I start them, I've noticed they are more successful and proactive than if I just sit around, waiting.

I've been to a workshop called 'Crucial Conversations', great term!

Great article Sarah. I am comfortable with conflict, but don't experience it much in my professional life. I think being comfortable with confrontation prempts the need to confront in many circumstances. Or at least that's my theory! :)

I especially love the pointer to have a solution planned when you bring up a problem -- it's a constructive and to spin the conversation towards positive change!

Thanks for the tip Sarah. These conversations are vital in the office and, instead of holding the team back, can propel the work forward. Thanks again for the reminder.

Good practical tips for an issue that can be hard to tackle, helpful to have a starting point!

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