Why We Shy Away From Workplace Confrontation and How to Embrace It

  • Posted on Mar 26, 2024

Confrontation. 

The word conjures images of raised voices, slammed doors, and a tense atmosphere. 

No wonder it’s a scenario where most leaders and employees try to avoid confrontation in the workplace. But here’s the secret: handled professionally, confrontation isn’t a battle; it’s an opportunity for growth.

Why We Shy Away From Workplace Confrontation

There are several reasons why both leaders and employees shy away from confrontation:

  • Fear of Conflict: We’re wired for connection, so conflict can feel disruptive. We might worry about damaging relationships or creating a hostile work environment.
  • Lack of Skills: Many leaders haven’t been equipped with the tools to navigate difficult conversations effectively. In the absence of comprehensive training, we fear saying the wrong thing or, worse, escalating the situation.
  • Power Dynamics: For employees, confronting a superior can feel intimidating. Leaders, on the other hand, might worry about appearing weak or indecisive.
  • Time Constraints: Leaders often juggle multiple priorities and may not have the time to invest in a potentially lengthy or tense conversation. Instead, they avoid it.

And there is a cost that comes with avoidance.

The High Cost of Avoidance

While avoiding confrontation might seem like the path of least resistance in the short term, it can have long-term consequences like these:

  • Resentment and Silos: Unresolved issues fester, leading to resentment and a communication breakdown. Employees become disengaged, and teams become dysfunctional.
  • Performance Issues: Unaddressed problems can directly impact performance. A team member’s bad habits can hold back the entire project, causing poor quality and delays.
  • Toxic Work Culture: Unchecked negativity breeds a culture of fear and silence. An increase in employee absences ultimately leads to high turnover. Employees would rather quit than confront.

It is essential to address conflict resolution in the workplace. 

Leading with Courage: How to Confront Professionally

So, how do we overcome our aversion to having different opinions and approach workplace confrontation constructively? 

Here are some tips:

  1. Focus on the Issue, Not the Person: Separate the behavior or situation from the individual. Use “I” statements to own your perspective, such as “I feel frustrated when deadlines are missed.” 
  2. Choose the Right Time and Place: Avoid ambushing someone. Pick a private, neutral location when both parties are calm and focused.
  3. Be Specific and Clear: Don’t be vague. Explain the issue clearly, providing specific examples of the behavior causing problems.
  4. Practice Active Listening: Give the other person a chance to respond. Listen actively, without interrupting, to understand their perspective.
  5. Focus on Solutions: The goal is to find a way forward, not assign blame. Brainstorm solutions collaboratively and agree on the next steps.
  6. Seek Support: Leadership coaching can equip leaders with the skills to confidently navigate difficult conversations.

Remember:

  • Stay Calm: A professional demeanor goes a long way. Avoid raising your voice or using inflammatory language.
  • Be Respectful: Even amidst disagreement, treat the other person with respect.

Conclusion

When done professionally, workplace confrontation is an essential tool for positive change. Developing and honing these skills allows leaders and employees to foster a more productive, collaborative work environment. Remember, difficult conversations aren’t about winning or losing; they’re about creating a better path forward for everyone involved.

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