Confronting people is not always easy, mostly because we tend to complicate things. We get angry or aggressive, we over-explain the problem, we don't quite have the facts straight. Yet, from what I've seen in business and in life, there is a way to follow a simple recipe to confront people in a way that leads to resolution, buy-in, and even a higher level of morale. Here's what to do to confront people the right way.
1. Do your homework
Before you confront someone, make sure you have all of the facts. Did you really perceive things correctly? Did you ask enough questions? Do you fully understand the situation and the people involved? We sometimes confront in anger or emotion without thinking, but we don't find out if the topic is really that important or if it will cause more problems after you criticize. Confrontation is also easier when we have determined there is an obvious issue--and an obvious answer.
2. Learn about the person
People want to be known. That's a fact of human existence. If you come out firing first with a confrontational tone, then asking questions later on, you'll find you have created an enemy, not an ally. Confrontation is an act of instruction, and the person receiving it has to be ready and willing to accept it and change their behavior. That's the goal. If you don't have enough information and background on the person to effectively explain the problem, you'll waste your time. Make sure you ask some questions, even if they're personal, before you launch into your criticism.
3. Offer encouragement before criticism
It doesn't take a lot of effort to do this step. "You've been doing an awesome job on this project, especially how you have stayed diligent and kept things professional." It's more than softening the blow. When you confront someone, you want to make sure the person understands you know how much they've contributed and you value their role, that it's a tough project or a difficult client. You can't show empathy to someone without first expressing encouragement and support. Put the relationship ahead of the issue.
4. Keep it simple and succinct
There's an art to making any confrontation seem trivial. "You know, there is one thing I wanted to mention..." is a good lead in. You have the facts down, you learned more about the person and their life, you offered some encouragement and you have shown you value the relationship. Now, explain the problem. The person should walk away front the confrontation feeling empowered--you're helping them succeed, you are correcting their actions so they can find the right path, you're offering hope. If the person walks away depressed and angry, you have not done your job.
5. Move on quickly
Once you drop "the bomb" and make the confrontation, move on quickly. People tend to dwell on their mistakes, or they can become defensive if you don't have all of the facts straight. Make the criticism seem trivial (yet important enough that you are mentioning it), then move onto another topic or offer even more encouragement. Many confrontations don't work out because it turns into a debate about who is right or wrong. When you know you're right, keep it simple and short.