Of all the skills managers want to have improved, communication pretty much comes up there at the top. Along with negotiating a higher salary, of course! But
communication is such a broad subject. I often ask clients, ‘If there was one area of communication you find hard to deal with or improve, what would it be?’
A common answer is, strangely, confrontation with others. I say this is strange because surely a manager has the capacity to deal with difficult situations, and bring them to a natural, successful conclusion? Well, we’re all human, so maybe even managers sometimes feel the need to improve this particular skill.
Here are some tips on how to deal with confrontation, whatever its cause:
1) Make sure you are in full control of your emotional responses. By allowing temper, fear or anger to drive your behaviour, you lose some control over your responses. Your amygdala, which has a key role to play in regulating your temper, could run away with you if you allow emotion to get the better of you. Take a deep breath, to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
2) If you have time to plan for the confrontation, think in advance what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. This gives you chance to control yourself and decide how you want the discussion to go.
3) Determine what triggers your responses. For example, if the other person uses bad language, do you respond likewise? If they shout, do you tend to reciprocate? Have an idea of how you respond against specific triggers, so you can choose your response, rather than being driven be an automatic reflex.
4) Often, a confrontational person will not be aware of how they are responding, as they are on automatic pilot. Make the person aware of how confrontational they are being. Saying something like ‘let’s talk about this rationally rather than having a shouting match’ or ‘Can we discuss this logically, instead of being aggressive’. Beware of accusing the other person…they may be aggressively defending themselves.
5) Show understanding and empathy if necessary. Saying something like ‘This obviously is very important to you’ or ‘This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?’ creates some form of equal rapport and enables you to calm any over-the-top emotions that may be driving their responses.
6). See the confrontation for exactly what it is. In other words, identify the motives of the other person. Are they angry for a good reason, or is it trivial? Even if it appears so to you, it might be touching the other’s hot button. The purpose of their argument might be to manipulate you, so be aware of that.
7) Plan for a collaborative response. It may not be possible for you both to ‘win’, but you may be able to deal with it in a way that makes future collaboration between you still work. Find the best way forward, and you have a chance of dealing with the solution rather than dwelling on the problem.
Not easy, of course, dealing with a confrontational situation, but by following some of the above ideas, you may create options that you hadn’t have thought of before.
Looking for more advice on dealing with conflict in the workplace? Try this article:
Head of Training
Originally published: 20 February, 2012
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