Lets all agree on one thing: Communication is the source of much conflict in the workplace.

Sometimes the unpredictability of human nature will kick in. You've seen it -- someone does or says something (unintentional, even) that causes a negative reaction.

Things can get ugly fast. Words are misinterpreted, feelings get hurt, people choose sides, the gossip machine starts to churn, and trust of colleagues is lost as employee morale goes down the tube. Now HR is involved and a "sensitivity training" just popped up on your calendar "asking" for you to confirm your attendance.

Poor communication can cost businesses countless hours of lost productivity to employees and bosses scrambling to do "damage control" and fix a problem that may have been avoided with good communication habits.

So what's that one good habit that nobody seems to want to address (or practice) as critical to solving conflict?

Confrontation: The Antidote to Conflict?

"Oh, I love experiencing the sheer joy and pleasure that comes with confronting others," said no person ever. Yes, it's human of us to want to avoid confrontation -- it's uncomfortable, awkward, and painful.

It's also absolutely necessary.

I say that because, while conflict is inevitable, it's also preventable and avoidable if we choose the pathway to healthy confrontation. Wait, did you just use "healthy" and "confrontation" in the same sentence, Marcel? Yes I did.

The reality is that confrontation is often the quickest route to cut through the drama, set clear expectations with intention, and have a positive outcome. It just takes intestinal fortitude and a good attitude on your way to the promised land.

Here's the key to get the ball rolling: It's knowing how to confront with the right approach, in the right setting, and handled in the right way. Master that framework, and people will start calling you the Human Whisperer.

First Step: Face to Face

First off, the approach has to be verbal, and even better, in person, to be completely effective. This means courageously stepping out from behind our digital comfort zones (smartphones, tables, emails, and texting apps) to deal directly with human emotions.

Next, always confront under control and never in anger. Anger is one powerful -- and very normal -- human emotion, but it needs to be expressed in a healthy and appropriate way with assertiveness, not outbursts and insults. The key is to be in the right emotional space when choosing to confront, so that any anger expressed is "righteous", appropriate, and under control.

Finally, to truly communicate effectively in the act of confrontation, the best leaders exercise the ability to listen and understand the other side of the fence, to "read" and interpret body language, and to know how to navigate the conversation so both parties can get their points across in a respectful manner.

The 10 Commandments of Confrontation

We've all heard this famous quote that's been attributed to different people, but most likely belongs to either Teddy Roosevelt or leadership author John C. Maxwell: "People don't care how much you know--until they know how much you care."

If Maxwell said it first, he has good reason. In his book Developing the Leader Within You, he forces us to look at confrontation as a tactic that benefits, not hurts, an organization and its people. He asks the reader, "Do you care enough to confront people when it will make a difference?"

For just about every one who feels uneasy, and that includes me, Maxwell suggests substituting "confront" for "clarify." In other words, "clarify the issue instead of confronting the person."

Maxwell then offers us ten "how to" gold nuggets of confronting with class and style. He calls it his "10 commandments of confrontation."

1. Do it privately, not publicly.

2. Do it as soon as possible. That is more natural than waiting a long time.

3. Speak to one issue at a time. Don't overload the person with a long list of issues.

4. Once you've made a point, don't keep repeating it.

5. Deal only with actions the person can change. If you ask the person to do something he or she is unable to do, frustration builds in your relationship.

6. Avoid sarcasm, sarcasm signals that you are angry at people, not at their actions, and may cause them to resent you.

7. Avoid words like always and never. They usually detract from accuracy and make people defensive.

8. Present criticisms as suggestions or questions if possible.

9. Don't apologize for the confrontational meeting. Doing so detracts from it and may indicate you are not sure you had the right to say what you did.

10. Don't forget the compliments. Use what I call the "sandwich" in these types of meetings: Compliment -- Confront -- Compliment.

Published on: Jun 27, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.