Published by Mark Zerbach on

Set the climate
o Ask for time
o State your intentions
o State concerns/reservations
State you case
o Own your responsibility
o Describe behavior being confronted
o State the impact of behavior
Listen for understanding
o Give 100% attention
o Demonstrate understanding
o State expectations
o Offer help in the change
o Describe positive/negative consequences
Make agreements
o State agreements reached
o Establish a follow-up
o Share appreciations

Set the climate
Ask for time is mostly for peer to peer or subordinate to boss confrontations. Schedule a time and place that allows enough time for the meeting, is private and free of interruptions. If you are confronting a subordinate, you will just need to ask the employee to meet you in a quiet, private space like your office. In some cases, where I don’t want the stigma of the employee being seen by other employees being marched to the wood shed, I do a walk around the building with them to “inspect things” and confront them outside of observation by other workers.
Stating my intentions and state concerns/reservations is where I want to diffuse emotions and get the other person on my side. If I value the relationship and want it to improve, I’ll say it. If I want to see the employee be more successful and grow with the organization, I’ll say it. If I don’t want to have to hire a new worker who may or may not be a good team member and spend a lot of co-worker time training them and then wait a few years to get the same level of knowledge and experience that I might lose if I can’t get this worker to change their behavior, I’ll say it. If you are afraid your boss will make light of your concerns or blow you off, say it. The whole point is to turn the persons perception of the meeting from me against you, to let’s do this together.

State your case

Own your responsibility is not required in order to have a successful confrontation but it does provide a place for you to admit partial responsibility if you have some. Admitting some responsibility helps you continue to change the perception of the person being confronted. If you allowed a policy to erode without meeting it head on and doing something about it earlier, say so. If you have been putting off this confrontation and allowing the problem to become larger because you were worried that, (insert worry here), then say so.
Describe behavior being confronted is extremely important! You must be specific as to what behavior you have witnessed or was reported to you as witnessed. Negative attitude is not a behavior, failing to cooperate is not a behavior, being a bad coworker is not a behavior. You must describe specific actions. This is why the General Position Summary inside our job description is so very important. All the best employee attributes we want from our workers and our corporate vision should be identified there. If we don’t list them, then we have a hard time holding our co-workers to a high standard of behavior.
After you tell them exactly what they have done, you can then state the impact of the behavior to them. Pull out the job description or the vision statement and show them how what they are doing is outside of where they are supposed to be and how it impacts their co-workers. In many cases I’ll talk about fairness as in, “If I let you do this, then I have to let everyone do it?” For higher Tech levels, Leads, Supervisors or Managers, I reinforce the fact that their behaviors are being observed by the workforce and the credibility of all management is at stake if the behavior is not changed. If the behavior is anger, words that offend or any actions that might be establishing a hostile work environment, you most definitely should have HR read in to the issue ahead of this confrontation.
Listen for understanding
Listen for understanding means you let them talk but you keep them on topic and focused on their own behaviors and not on the behaviors of others around them. This is where being specific about what behavior you witnessed really keeps them from using plausible deniability to reject the issue. Don’t be surprised when you are told all sorts of personal problems that are the cause of the behaviors and emotion levels really get jacked up. Make sure you look them right in the eye. Show compassion, understanding and empathy as they sometimes will unload some serious burdens on you that they have not told anyone else. Do not problem solve when listening, especially when they do tell you about personal issues.

Negotiate is a word that is misleading when talking about a supervisor to employee confrontation but can be very spot on when a peer to peer or employee to boss confrontation is being performed. State expectations during a supervisor to employee confrontation means you tell them exactly what behaviors you need from them going forward. It’s sort of a subtle point but don’t tell them what you don’t want to see from them. It’s more positive to tell them what actions to do. For peer to peer or employee to boss you are asking for change and if you can get them to commit to doing so, this is where you do it. It may be that they offer a portion of the change rather than the whole so there is room to negotiate exactly what you/they commit to.
Offer help in the change process if you or they can think of anything that might get behavior change started and keep it going. This could be offering them phone numbers for professional help with problems that you are not trained to help them with.
Describing positive /negative consequences is very critical to solidifying buy-in from the person you are confronting. For any confrontation you want to list as many positive consequences as you can. People tend to hear negatives shout and positives whisper so you must really give the person a lot of incentive to agree to change. When you do get to the negative consequences, be very specific about the result of failure to change behavior. For boss to employee, it’s most likely continued disciplinary actions up to and including employment termination. For peer to peer or employee to boss it can be a ruined working relationship or whatever you believe the true result of failure to be.

Make agreements

Review what has been agreed to by listing them and getting the person to say to you, “Yes, I will do that.” If you have actions that you have agreed to, be sure to say that you will do them. Be sure to establish a follow-up meeting a few weeks out to review progress and adjust the plan if needed. If they unloaded personal problems on you, check in with them daily and show them you care about what they are going through. Be gracious and thank them for their time and for helping to resolve the issue.

Final thoughts
The more often you use this process, the better you get at it and the less you worry about truly bad outcomes. Remember to accentuate the positive and keep your own emotions low key and matter of fact.
It’s good also to know when or when not to confront. Ask yourself:
• Can I put it behind me?
• Is my intention truly to be helpful?
• Do I want and / or need this relationship?
• Can I live with the worst realistic outcome?
It’s easy to let fear of the worst possible outcome stop us from confronting tough issues. Realizing that the worst possible outcome almost never happens, is the first step towards being realistic about the results you can expect. In most cases, you find that people want to be good co-workers and are very open to making relationships better. A lot of times the person being confronted will thank you for letting them know about the issue because they were completely unaware and embarrassed by how others were seeing their actions.
Confrontation is actually the second level of actions we need to be taking with our workforce and with each other. The first level should be ON THE SPOT CORRECTIONS (OSC). OSC simply mean we are recognizing when something isn’t right and doing something immediately to correct it. It can be process, procedure, personal behavior or words and actions misaligned but regardless of what it is, we act immediately to correct it. If we can get comfortable and make it part of our culture to do OSC, then many confrontations never need happen. The greatest benefit by far of making OSC and of confronting tough issues will be to hurry us all towards achieving our vision.

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