• Create a Safe Space for Confrontation

    Apr 18, 2014

    When you confront a colleague with a problem, you must create a “safe” environment. If a person feels unsafe meaning that something bad is currently happening or will happen as a result of this conversation – the discussion is likely to escalate into stony silence, inappropriate remarks, or other unproductive behavior. It’s always important to make sure these conversations happen in a private setting. Keep outside distractions to a minimum by turning off or forwarding pagers and telephones.

    The communications experts who wrote Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior say people feel unsafe when they believe:

    • You do not respect them as a human being
    • You do not care about their goals

    In the first few seconds of the confrontation, describe the gap – the difference between what you expected and what actually happened. Then establish mutual respect.

    • Avoid a tone of voice, facial expression, or words that show disrespect.
    • Focus your comments on the person’s behavior, not the person as a whole.
    • Maintain respect by reminding yourself that the person you are confronting is more than just the behavior they exhibit.

    If, at any point during the confrontation, the person shows signs of fear or feeling disrespect, take action to restore mutual respect.

    For example, “This is not a conversation about you as a person. It is about the specific behavior you have exhibited in this situation. We need to explore other mechanisms you can use when this situation occurs because your current behavior is unacceptable.”

    From the outset, make it clear that you want to solve the problem by improving things for both you and the other person. Establish “mutual purpose” by being concerned about your colleague’s goal as well as your own.

    For example, “I’d like to discuss how that last decision was made. We need to come up with a process that works well for both of us.”

    See related article: Conflict Resolution Strategies: Scripts for Handling Uncomfortable Scenes

    Source: Crucial Accountability: Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior, Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, McGraw-Hill Education, 2013.