Confrontation

No. I repeat this simple word many times each day, in a variety of volumes and with relative efficacy. My three young children are used to me saying no but are keen to keep me in line in case I abuse the word or just get in the habit of saying no under the banner of being a “good parent”. When I’m at home, no is easy. At work, it’s another story altogether.

“No may be the word we need most in today’s times,” said negotiator William Ury, author of The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. When you consider the consequences of confronting a coworker and the very real possibility of fallout in the days that follow, saying no is serious business indeed. I once confronted a colleague for his verbal abuse of a secretary and the result was predictable- he denied the whole thing and resented the fact that I called him out on it. What follow are some pointers when it comes to confronting the person who is way out of line.

Step back and “Go to the Balcony”. Ury uses this phrase as a way of encouraging poise under pressure. Someone has just offended you or said something completely out of line so how should you respond? Step back, take a breath and respond with calm and composure. Going “to the balcony” indicates a need to get away from the situation, if even for a moment. Maybe it’s taking a deep breath or putting your fingers to your temples. It might require you to leave the room and walk down the hall. The key is to avoid an emotional reaction and choose instead a rational response.

Trust Your Gut. In the situation that I described earlier, I went with my gut which told me that a secretary had just been chewed out for no apparent reason. Instead of sweeping it under the rug as just a “bad day” for the offender, I marched right up to his room and spoke directly to him. Remember this: if it seems like a situation of abuse, neglect or outright workplace arrogance, it probably is. How to respond is the real question.
Give Him/Her a Chance to Speak. You’ve just witnessed a colleague get trashed in a public meeting so what do you do? You could walk right up to your boss and let her have it, launching verbal hand grenades and mincing no words. On the other hand, you could also request a meeting behind closed doors, outline what you witnessed and then give her a chance to respond. I’ve found that the simple stating of your case opens the other person to their case, ultimately leading to a better conversation.

Respond Truthfully. Confronting someone at work takes tact and confidence and you may choose to forgo that difficult conversation this time in favor of a better time or place at another time. Without getting into “confrontation procrastination”, speak truthfully when the time is right. If you have a reservoir of respect with your boss or colleague, they’ll listen to your perspective 9 out of 10 times. Sometimes we’re tempted to backtrack because we want to be nice but it’s truth that ultimately teaches us best, not just being nice.

Follow-through is Key. Holding grudges is absolutely off limits when it comes to moving on and following through. You’ve made your case, now move on. Don’t worry about how well it went or how much they empathized with you. Should they choose to ignore your perspective, they’ll only find themselves in hot water down the road.
Standing up for “the little guy” is hard work, especially if that guy is you. Sure, life would be easier if we all got along but saying no might be just the ticket for you and your organization. It’s often the uncomfortably truthful conversation that leads to a deeper level of growth and productivity.

Mike St. Pierre blogs about productivity and life balance at www.thedailysaint.com

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