Coworker Confrontation: 5 Tips to Approach It with Kindness
This weekend I reconnected with a friend and former coworker. During dinner, the conversation naturally veered into happenings back at the office. We both found out we’d been burned by the same colleague.
In my friend’s case, the person had an issue with something she said at a meeting. We all know this is not an unusual issue. It’s just a normal occurrence in an office and most people know how to address it and get on with the job. Not in this case.
This person decided to call my friend’s boss and complain about the perceived problem rather than say something directly to her.
I commiserated with my girl because I know it’s tough working with people who would rather call your manager than deal directly with you. When someone gets a higher level of management involved with a situation, it’s called “escalating.” There is definitely a need for an escalation path in organizations. The problem occurs when people engage management prior to trying to work things out directly with their coworkers.
This is the type of action that can create problems between coworkers. It erodes trust and sometimes the professional relationship can never be repaired. It’s one of those micro-aggressions that people commit in offices every day. They may claim they meant no harm, but it damages work relationships. No one wants to be blindsided by a complaint about their work performance without even having an opportunity to explain themselves.
The escalation often creates a defensive mode in the person whose management was engaged. In my friend’s case it certainly did. It turned out the misunderstanding stemmed from two team members who didn’t read updated information emailed to them weeks prior to the customer meeting. My friend’s actions were proved correct and the deal moved forward.
An unintended outcome is that the professional relationship between these two super-smart and valuable employees is forever damaged. There is no more trust and no goodwill between them. A definite loss of productivity for the office because they don’t really want to work together anymore.
A better strategy for management would have been to encourage the complaining employee to speak directly to her colleague before the person’s manager got involved. Coaching them to address the issue with kindness and respect could have salvaged a good work relationship. Some suggestions they could have made include:
Speak in real time
This is not a discussion for email, text or instant message. A face-to-face conversation is best, but if that can’t be arranged a video or telephone call is the next best option.
2. Begin the conversation with something positive
Find something positive to start the conversation. State what you do agree on. At a minimum thank the person for agreeing to discuss and try to successfully resolve the issue at your respective levels.
3. Watch your voice
It’s not just the words you say. It’s also the way you say them. People interpret the timing and pace of how you speak and your volume, tone and inflection. Your tone alone can change the meaning of how a person receives your words, conveying sarcasm or anger even if the words themselves are conciliatory.
4. Be direct and concise
Just say what the issue is and don’t beat around the bush.
5. Be quiet and listen
Let the person respond. Don’t go on and on about the problem without giving them an opportunity to respond.
As you speak try to find common ground. If that’s not possible try to ‘agree to disagree’ and figure out how to avoid the situation in the future. Mature, professional and responsible employees usually don’t need to call in the boss to resolve a difference of opinion. But if so, escalate after you try to make things better directly. If you address confrontation from a kind perspective there is often a positive outcome.
When you are upset with a coworker who escalated to your manager prior to speaking with you about the perceived infraction, how do you handle it?