Confrontation Should Not be an Ambush
The best outcomes of confrontation are always associated with an honest and straightforward approach from the start. Confrontation anxiety or a flawed inner narrative about the other person’s motive for the behaviors we’re confronting may tempt us to begin with one of the following disingenuous tactics. Don’t give in to the temptation!
Good Cop/Bad Cop
This is named after a police interrogation technique where one cop pretends to be the bad guy and the other the good guy in order to gain compliance or information from the subject. Sometimes we do the same thing when we are trying to shift any possible hostility away from ourselves to someone else who is not present. There are times when it can be a legitimate expression of empathy, but many times it’s just a dodge.
“I know your designated parking spot is a long walk, but my supervisor wants everyone to stick with their assigned spots. If I had my way it’d be ‘first-come, first-serve’, but I’ve got no say in that!”
Use this and people will see you as a coward for always trying to make someone else take the heat for the confrontation.
Spoonful of Sugar (helps the medicine go down)
“Kirk! You’ve lost weight and look great!”
“By the way, I’m gonna need to talk to you about the porn sites on your browser history.”
“But Hey, I love your new format for those sales reports. Way to go!”
I’ve heard this being taught as something called a “compliment sandwich,” where you start out with something positive, and then you deliver the criticism or cite the problem, then end with another compliment. If the problem being confronted is very minor and peripheral, the “compliment sandwich” might work, but most of the time it’s just a hypocritical duck and cover.
Start out chatty and pleasant; give them an opportunity to lie and then spring the trap.
“Hey, how’d it go with your callback to that prospective client in Ohio?”
“OK, I guess. Nothing definite yet.”
“Well, I should say not. I called her yesterday, and she said she hadn’t heard from you yet.”
Even just occasional use of this confrontation tactic will inject mistrust into the workplace culture and inject brinksmanship into every confrontation.
“Why do you think I’m upset with you today?”
“Well, hmm. Is it because I’ve been taking packets of coffee from the breakroom?”
“Is it because I’m the one who downloaded the virus that crashed our server?”
“Is it because I…..”
Making the other person guess why you are upset with them is simply childish, and a very poor way to start a confrontation.
Read My Body Language
Instead of actually talking about the problem, just send out hints and hope they get the message. Roll your eyes, look at your watch, smirk, frown. It looks great when you document the correction: “June 2, 9:12 AM. Simmons late. I looked at my watch and frowned. Simmons gave a nod of understanding and went right to work.”
Starting with a Disclaimer…
“This is probably stupid, but…”
“I’m ashamed to even mention this, but…”
“It’s probably my fault, but…”
“Maybe it’s just me, but…”
“Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but…”
Starting with a disclaimer is the same as saying, “Perhaps you’d like to question the validity of my concern…Here are my suggestions for how you could start!”
Confrontation must start well before it can end well. Face it squarely without any of the games I’ve described here, and you greatly increase the positive outcomes of your confrontations.
Click here for a complete catalog of my blog posts with a brief description of their content.