Career

How To Deal With Confrontation At Work

How many times have you heard the words ‘I hate confrontation’ come out of someone’s mouth? If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that I’d be a helluva lot richer than I am now.

What I find perplexing about this comment is I don’t think anyone really enjoys confrontation, but is just an inevitable part of life – kind of like the dentist. And I feel a bit sorry for confrontation because it is mostly misunderstood and it often gets mistaken for its nasty cousin, conflict.

Let’s take a step back and spell out the difference between confrontation and conflict according to your friends over at Oxford…

Confrontation: Face up to and deal with a problem or difficulty.

Conflict: A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.

As you can see, there is a huge difference between the two. Confrontation can be a helpful and positive experience, particularly in work context where it is usually pretty hard to avoid people.

Work can be a funny thing: you spend most of your waking hours in a place filled with people you probably wouldn’t choose to hang out with in other situations. You’re there to get a job done and hopefully have fun along the way, but for the most part you have to work with people all the time. Grievances, annoyances and conflicts breed like wildfire in these scenarios. But confrontation can actually make it better.

I don’t know about you but I know I would much prefer to confront a situation (despite how bloody awkward it can be) than let tensions build and build until you’re that annoying person who can’t do anything except bitch and moan about Janice from accounts! So, here are some tips to help you treat confrontation like the dentist – embrace the short term pain the enjoy the long term gain.

Empathise first

Before going into any situation where you’re confronting someone you should always take a step back and try and see the situation from their point of view. That doesn’t mean you have to make total sense of their decision, but the fact you’ve tried will enable you to be in the right frame of mind when you do have the conversation.

Don’t be aggressive!

Confrontation gets a bad reputation for being aggressive but it doesn’t have to be unless you let it. You can simply approach someone and say ‘hey, I just wanted to check in with you to make sure everything is OK, things haven’t seemed normal lately’. Even if the other person is being a total douche, you will be amazed to see how quickly people drop bravado and crappy behaviour if you call them out on it in this simple way.

Don’t involve anyone else

Your boss and HR should absolutely be notified if you are experiencing harassment or bullying of any kind. But if you are in a situation where someone is annoying you (e.g. constantly interrupting you while you’re trying to work), it’s best you put your grown up pants on and deal with it yourself. Plus, I am sure your boss will give you brownie points for taking the initiative and not causing them an undue headache.

It’s also wise not to involve anyone unofficially: it isn’t a good look to go around complaining about someone, especially if you haven’t spoken to that person about the issue at hand. By all means have a vent to your bestie, but keep it professional and don’t whinge about the issue to others in the workplace.

Be prepared to make some changes too

If you and your colleague are both frustrated with each other, there is a good chance that they might have some constructive feedback for you too. It goes both ways, so unless you’re ready to accept the feedback and work on it, don’t bother confronting the issue. If you retaliate or react badly, you will be on the slippery slope to Conflict-ville which is a lot less hospitable than Confrontation Town. Even if you don’t agree with them, accept their point of view, move on and work on getting that relationship back on track.

Be clear and specific

Don’t use words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ as they will work against you. If you confront someone, they will likely be defensive, it is just one of those annoying human traits that are hard to shake. Let me paint you an example:

Option A) “You never invite me to any meetings and you’re always leaving me out and I don’t know why. I am sick of it!”

Option B) “I noticed on Tuesday I wasn’t invited to the meeting with client X and it seems to be occurring quite often. I think it’s important I am part of those discussions, are you able to invite me to the next ones so I can stay across the client feedback?”

You can see that addressing the problem with specifics and coming up with a solution sets you up for a much more productive conversation.

So now you have the tools, you can start to embrace confrontation and use it to your advantage, because letting things escalate to arguments at work is pretty much like signing yourself up for root canal.


Hannah is a corporate manager by day and freelance writer by night. Her work has appeared on websites like Virgin Australia, AWOL and Broadsheet as well as her own travel blog, Tales and Trails. You can follow her adventures and admire cute photos of her dog Marvin at @talesandtrails_