Conflict & Confrontation in Management

conflict resolutionWhether out of personal reluctance or professional misgivings, many managers and business owners hesitate to confront employees who are not acting appropriately in the workplace. This fear of conflict can be a significant obstacle to a well-functioning department and to a cohesive team as the leadership will often be called into question.

Here are a few things to consider when dealing with conflict and confrontation in your professional relationships:

Don't Hold Mental Confrontations by Yourself

The first step in overcoming this self-defeating fear is to not have the proverbial conversations in your head as to how the situation will play out.  While many managers – legitimately so – try to anticipate questions and responses, there are some who fall into the trap of making the confrontation personal before it even transpires.

Instead, more experienced professionals recognize that this situation is normal and limit their mental acrobatics to the basics and to the standard answers. This process helps in two ways. One, it limits the conversation to the business aspects and not the personal ones. Two, it mitigates any problems with the HR department as the conversation is limited to the appropriate topic.

Don't Be Afraid to Meet the Confrontation Head-On

Many managers find themselves second guessing company policy even when they know they are in the right. The best ones end this contradiction by establishing, in their mind, the essential problem and re-stating it in 1-2 fact-based sentences. Armed with the simplest of facts, most managers can then proceed with a level of decision that defuses a potentially explosive situation. A meeting can then be had with the offending employee that leads to a useful resolution.

Dealing with the Confrontation

The initial interaction between the employer and the employee in a confrontational situation is key. There is simply no point in establishing an adversarial relationship as the situation is probably already uncomfortable. As the manager, invite the employee to sit down with full access to the exit door. Then make your opening statement in as few words as possible. Next, it is important – and the fact cannot be overemphasized – to allow the employee to make their case without being interrupted.

Allowing this process to transpire provides many benefits. First, the employee realizes that they will be heard. Secondly, it lets you gather more information about the situation. Finally, it allows you to provide a reasoned response to all of their excuses, grievances or other reasons for their behavior. It is a powerful tool, if one can resist the temptation to respond to every sentence.

Recognize that Emotional Arguments are Counterproductive

It is important to understand that confrontations only mean the meeting of two opposing points of view; they do not necessarily involve an argument or fight. In fact, the entire point of a “confrontational” meeting is to examine the situation and avoid any further complications. During this meeting, all frustrations, blame and other demotivational feelings should be worked out by both parties. In short, it is a time for both the employee and the manager to say their piece.

Always Focus on the One Substantive Issue

As anyone who has ever held an employee meeting knows, it is easy to get sidetracked by non-core issues. While this is somewhat acceptable in whole-store meetings, it should not be countenanced in a one-on-one counseling session. In many instances, the issue has already been decided in each parties' minds and they may have to agree to disagree. Whatever the outcome of the initial statements, it is the responsibility of the manager to stay focused.

In this case, “focus” means documenting what has been discussed, delivering this documentation to the employee and describing what behavior is expected in the future. Do not complicate or confuse the issue by piling on other grievances that are not relevant here.

A Final Thought

Confrontation need not be daunting or “ugly” but it must be handled in a professional manner or your company risks the threat of a lawsuit or government intervention. Ensure that your managers are capable of handling these situations, handle them yourself or hire a PEO to deal with challenging personnel. In the long run, you will save time, money and aggravation.


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