We defy augury; there is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.
-- Hamlet, Act 5, Scene ii, William Shakespeare
A friend stopped me on the way out of the locker room. Concerned about a fellow exerciser's habit of not wiping down the equipment after using it, she asked me if I thought she should say something. She thought about going to the facility manager, but the word tattle-tale came to mind. What should she do?
These kinds of questions arise in almost every workshop:
- My coworker takes a longer lunch than the rest of us, and I have to cover.
- He never replaces the files. He just expects someone else to pick up after him.
- Everyone else plays by the rules! Why can’t they?
Because confrontation is difficult, these conversations seldom take place with the one person who counts. Why?
- We don’t want to seem picky or pefectionistic.
- We’re fearful about the possible consequences with someone we see every day.
- We wonder if it’s our place to speak. Why doesn’t someone else do it?
- We don’t think we have the confidence or skill.
If you're contemplating confronting a coworker, friend, family member, or even someone you don't know very well, this 7-step checklist will help you address the issue respectfully and take care of yourself in the bargain.
How to Confront With Skill and Confidence: 7 Tips
#1) Keep it Safe
Analyze your purpose for bringing the problem up. What do you really want?
- A healthier facility?
- A fairer, more cooperative workplace?
- More direct communication?
As you clarify your hopes for the confrontation, things often fall into place.
#2) Don’t Assume They Know
Hard as it is to believe, your gym buddy may not know how to clean the equipment or that it's expected. Maybe your coworker assumes lunchtime is flexible or is so used to having others pick up after him, he doesn’t notice when you do.
#3) Imagine a Positive Outcome
Don’t assume the other person will have a negative reaction. He/she may not see the behavior as antagonizing and might be grateful for ways to be more of a team player.
#4) Stay Curious
Another key to keeping things safe is to adopt an attitude of curiosity. Choosing this non-verbal stance when things get sticky makes life so much easier. Instead of, “How rude!” think, “How interesting!”
#5) Describe the Gap
A simple 3-step strategy from the book, Crucial Confrontations, is called “Describe the Gap":
- Describe what you see.
- Describe the expectation.
- Ask about the “gap” between the two.
For example, “I notice you don’t wipe down the machine after you use it, and the expectation is that we do. I’m curious why you don’t.” Or just: “I notice you don’t wipe down the machine after using it." The question (Why not?) is implied.
#6) Be direct
To confront with skill and confidence, start by talking to the person who can solve the problem. Be specific. Use an I-Statement. Focus on the behavior and its impact. Be respectful, courteous, and direct.
#7) The Readiness Is All
Fears about what might happen are usually nebulous and unfounded, but they stop us nonetheless. The key is to be ready for whatever may come. And the key to being ready is to sort through the possible outcomes. Anticipate the best, and be prepared for anything. If the person has a huge emotional reaction, know they had other options. Their reaction has everything to do with their internal process and little to do with you. Stand to the side, and watch the emotional energy go by.
Sometimes we get so worked up about these seemingly difficult conversations that we make them harder. Or we stay silent when speaking up might influence the environment for the better.
I’ve written in the past about the many life lessons I learn from my own daily workout. I’m sure there will be lessons for my friend, too. She may decide the issue’s not important enough to address and choose to let it go. What’s key in these ki moments is evaluating the options and feeling good about your choice.
- If you were in my friend's place, would you address the issue?
- What other tips can you suggest for skillful confrontation?
For more on this topic, read my article: Being Heard: 6 Strategies for Getting Your Point Across.