4 Tips for Handling Confrontation at Work

Confrontation in the workplace is hardly one of the more pleasant experiences on the job. However, it is something most people experience at least once in their working lives, and is best dealt with peacefully. Below are tips for handling confrontation at work successfully, all of which contribute to a more harmonious work environment.

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Remain Calm

This might seem obvious, but it is paramount. If you allow your emotions to take over when confronted by a fellow employee or manager, the situation is likely to escalate fast. Rather than finding yourself in a “screaming match” that makes everyone in close proximity uncomfortable, take several deep breaths. Deep breathing instantly reduces blood pressure to help calm the mind and body. The calmer you are, the greater the chance of the person confronting you calming down. After all, raising a voice to someone who is not reacting does not make the former individual look good!

Ask to Discuss the Issue on “Neutral Ground”

Finding a private or semi-private space to define the specific issue is always best, because it avoids distracting fellow workers and heightening tension. The breakroom, hallway, or an unused meeting room can all work as spaces to ask what the problem is and why it is upsetting to the coworker. The issue could boil down to simple miscommunication, or something the fellow employee overhead and misinterpreted. If neither of these possibilities have to do with the problem, remember to stay calm. As easy as it is to immediately get defensive, it is important to hear the person fully before responding.

Stay Focused on the Behavior

Rather than focusing on the person confronting you, focus on their behavior. This is the less accusatory method, because you are not attacking the person’s personality or specific traits. Using “I” statements is helpful in this regard, such as saying, “I understand you are upset and am more than willing to find a solution that serves both of us. However, I am a little upset by the tone you are currently using. If we can focus on remaining calm, I am sure we can resolve the problem quickly and move forward as part of this amazing team.”

“I” statements are not only more effective at resolving conflicts than “you” statements, they are also better than using “we” statements. For example, saying “Well, we are upset about you taking multiple smoke breaks a day” is not helpful to you. Instead, say something like, “I get that you are upset about my complaining about your numerous daily smoke breaks. I just think they mean you get more free time than the rest of us, and I believe something should be done about it. From now on, I will be more up front with you. Now, let’s try to resolve this issue together!”

Be Emphatic

Handling confrontation at work of any kind benefits from empathy. It means attempting to see a problem or experience from another person’s point of view and considering how you would feel if you were on their end of the situation. Empathy helps the other person feel heard and understood, which decreases the chance of escalating tension and strife. By being empathic, it’s even possible for both you and the other party to have new respect and admiration for one another, because empathy is a wonderful characteristic in anyone.

These are just some of the more effective ways of handling confrontation at work. Staying committed to peaceful, timely resolutions is always the best avenue, because it avoids increasing tension and resentment.

For more on solving workplace conflicts, please contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems today!

Kent McGroarty


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