Life is an experience that is dictated by rules. As children, things are usually simple because for the most part we either live by our parents’ rules, or by academic ones. As we grow up, even more rules such as religious ones or professional ones enter the fray. In a perfect world, all these different rules would exist as steadfast standards which are easy for everyone to follow. For as long as rules exist however, human nature will compel us all to break them, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

There’s no escaping it

This inevitable fact is the reason why confrontation exists. Confrontation is a process that happens when people who fail to follow specific rules or social expectations require correction. Confrontation is particularly unavoidable for anyone in leadership because authority happens to be intrinsically tied to enforcement. This is to say that leaders have a duty both to conceive the policies that guide a given group of people, as well as to ensure that established policies aren’t violated or disregarded. Effective confrontation skills aren’t just an asset to leadership, but a requirement. A strong leader should be capable of confronting people in ways that simultaneously prevent conflict, and solve apparent problems.

Because people tend to perceive confrontation as a spontaneous conversation, they often approach this event without any preparation. However confrontation by its very nature is a negotiation. It’s a debate that is best conducted through factual and sober discourse rather than animosity. Here are five essential steps any leader should follow in order to confront others constructively:

1. Be Clinical:

The circumstances which lead up to confrontation are often emotive. Those with an obligation to initiate confrontation likely feel offended whereas those who get confronted are bound to feel defensive upon accusation. Allowing these emotions to influence the dialogue of confrontation will spiral the encounter into a power struggle. Even before deciding to confront someone, make a deliberate effort to detach yourself from all emotion in order to analyze the situation objectively and develop a strategy that will minimize or eliminate tension.

2. Identify the Problem:

Never involve yourself in the unpredictability of confrontation without a definitive understanding of what rules have been broken, and the exact problems said broken rules produce. A vague understanding of precisely what a confrontation should achieve not only leaves you vulnerable to aimless quarreling, it can prompt you to initiate personal attacks in lieu of having a justifiable argument to defend. Once you’ve identified specific problems to tackle, draft a series of solutions or compromises that would best restore order to the affected relationship.

3. Make Contact:

Confrontation can only happen if it’s actually initiated. Once you have a game plan in place, it’s up to you to choose the right place at the right time, and meet with the necessary people to discuss any issues. Don’t make contact suddenly. As much as possible, choose an appropriate time that allows for discreet and extensive dialogue should the confrontation become time-consuming.

4. Use Neutral Language:

Once confrontation has commenced, it is extremely important to remember that emotions do not belong anywhere in the conversation. This doesn’t just encompass attitude, it involves deliberate use of language as well. For instance, replacing “you” statements with less-direct statements deflects the embarrassment of feeling blamed. Consider the following two accusations:

  • You waste a lot of electricity because you never shutdown your computer before locking up.
  • The computers have to be shutdown properly before locking up in order to save electricity.

The second less-direct statement allows an accused person to save face while clearly highlighting their mistake. Neutral language keeps heads cool and fosters mature engagement during confrontation.

5. Stay On Topic:

Simulating a confrontation and participating in one are two different circumstances altogether. Whether or not things go as planned, confronting someone face-to-face is an interactive process which can sidetrack for any number of reasons. Even if it means having notes written down on a clipboard, remember to stay focused on the central objectives of a confrontation in an impartial way. Address the problems at hand and not the person. Avoid taking on a hardline or forceful approach unless it is an absolute last resort. Confrontations conducted through diplomacy and composure generate more enduring resolutions than those which feature intimidation and coercion.

Confrontation may be volatile, but that doesn’t mean it’s unmanageable. A tactical approach helps reduce the chances of getting stuck in contentious arguments with defensive people. The most important goal isn’t to get one’s way in the end, but to conclusively solve the problems which create a need for confrontation in the first place. Check out more of RISE Programs’ Blogs for helpful advice on leadership, and remember to spread the word by sharing this post.