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How to Handle Heated Confrontations at Work

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by ANN BROWN

Confrontations are inevitable. There will be a time you will butt-heads with a co-worker, boss, or even a client.  But knowing how to deal with confrontation is key to keeping any relationship in tact.

“With significant work experience as an employee, manager and now an entrepreneur, I understand office confrontations quite well,” Shemiah Williams, president of Modern Graffiti Marketing Group. “Confrontations will arise without a doubt. The first step and best way to prevent them from becoming out of control or negative is to address what is causing the issue. Schedule a time to talk to the person– in person–or on the phone if that isn’t possible. Confronting is not the goal. The approach is to discuss the issue hearing both sides with a goal of reaching an understanding. You might not agree in the end but you will be able to relate to the other person’s perspective.”

 

 

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When you are involved in a confrontation, it is important to have perspective. Know which battles to fight. “There are a couple of key steps: The first step is to pick your conflict. Pick the ones that matter to you and have an effect on you. If they don’t, why not let them go? You’ll be less stressed out,” advises Barbara Pachter, author of  The Power of Positive Confrontation. “The next step is to give the person ”The Jerk Test.’ We are very quick to make negative assumptions about others. Yet often we have no idea what is driving the other person’s behavior. If you approach someone thinking that person is a jerk, it is very easy to explode because ‘the jerk had it coming!’ If you think maybe the person is a jerk, maybe not, I will find out, you are less likely to explode.”

Of course there are ways to avoid confrontation, especially in the workplace. “The best way to avoid confrontations with people is to build relationships with them. Establish minor rapport: greet people, say goodbye at night. Offer to help others, volunteer for assignments and go above and beyond in your job. My philosophy is that is that it is hard to be nasty to people who are nice to you,” explains Pachter.

Sometimes, believe it or not, confrontations can be healthy. They get problems and harsh feelings out in the open. “I think there is a healthy balance with being able to positively challenge each other with the goal of reaching the best idea or pushing through to a brilliant outcome but that can be drastically different from confrontation. Professionals should be able to accept constructive criticism from peers to be better at what they do and achieve growth,” notes Williams.

And if you do have a confrontation, look for ways to resolve it rather than let the disagreement continue. Go to the person to discuss the situation but know what you want to say beforehand. “You want to prepare and practice what you want to say. You are less likely to explode or wimp out if you do. You want your wording to be specific, direct, polite and non-accusatory. My ‘Don’t Attack’em, WAC’em’ model can guide people. WAC’em stands for: What’s really bothering you? What do you want to Ask the other person to do or change? and Check-in for their reaction. “Also get to the root of the discord. “The best way to resolve confrontations are to understand that they stem from a lack of clarity in some manner,” says Williams. “Acknowledge them from what they are. Name the resistance and try to reach understanding and NEVER hold grudges–it stunts your personal growth.”

(This is a reprint of an 8/4/14 column by Brown for the Network Journal)

Ann Brown is a longtime New York journalist whose columns appear in The Network Journal, New York Trend and other publications. She currently resides in Cape Verde.

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