When Confrontation Is Needed, How Do You Manage It?


When do you move from coaching to confrontation, and how do you manage it?

  • Confrontation is required when there are egregious actions or behaviors on the employee’s part, or a repeat of a performance issue that’s been discussed multiple times through coaching.
  • Confrontation can also occur when you, as the manager, fail to coach effectively or demonstrate the emotional intelligence that’s needed. EI, in this context, means self-awareness — recognizing the frustration, irritation or anger being felt, its potential impact on the direct report, and your ability to self-regulate or control your emotions.

Coaching isn’t easy, even at its most basic level. When we talk about effective coaching skills, we focus on asking questions to drive the thought processes that develop sensible solutions, using the impact of actions or behaviors as learning tools, showing emotional intelligence and respect, and balancing areas for improvement with the positives. Many managers also shy away from potential conflict and dealing with issues directly. It’s therefore not surprising that they either fail to coach or fail when they coach.

So what happens when a confrontation appears to be justified or inevitable? Chances are that you’re mad, angry, frustrated beyond measure, at your wits’ end, fit to be tied … and possibly scared! This is the point where even the most resolute manager may falter, harboring the following doubts or concerns:

  • Your relationship may be irrevocably damaged and there may be the possibility of retaliation.
  • You cannot afford to rock the boat. You are dependent on this person and are in a serious crunch.
  • The outcome may be unexpected, and you may fear being part of or the cause of the problem.
  • The problem may become exacerbated or escalate.
  • You may find it too difficult or embarrassing to deal with the expected emotional response.

The first step: STOP, take a deep breath and cool it. Figure out how best to handle the situation in a manner that will lead to a successful or, at least, workable outcome. That said, don’t wait too long. Failure to address the issue in a timely manner can worsen the problem, produce an emotional explosion or severely impact the careers and even the jobs of both you and your direct report.

The next step: get the facts to the extent available. Focus on the main issue and message you want to deliver. You may also want to bounce your ideas, concerns and approach off a trusted colleague or confidante before proceeding.

Finally, when it’s time to sit down and you’re prepared to manage the confrontation:

  • Get to the point directly, clearly and succinctly.
  • Be respectful and use your emotional intelligence (which includes the ability to diffuse conflict).
  • Avoid the vague introduction of “how are things going?” People aren’t stupid, they know why they’re there.
  • Don’t soften the message to avoid hurt feelings or damage to the relationship. The message will get lost.
  • Don’t assault the direct report with anger or accusatory statements.
  • State the facts, explain the rationale and the implications.
  • Indicate your intent to resolve.
  • Avoid a monologue. Make it a dialogue and participative.
  • Having stated the issues, move into a coaching mode, without any fluff, and address what needs to be done to resolve the situation. Discuss next steps and any communication that’s required around the issue.
  • Bear in mind that termination may be an outcome, which means filling the position at a time when workload may be heavy and you’re under pressure. However, ask yourself: “If you don’t deal with the problem, will things improve?”

Hopefully, as you wrap up what started as a confrontation and which you managed effectively, your direct report will communicate back to you that she or he understands what needs to be done and resolves to avoid a repeat. If there are still serious differences of opinion and the employee is valuable to the organization, some form of mediation or third-party intervention may be beneficial.

If you have a similar, concerning situation and you need some advice, let’s talk about it.

3 responses to “When Confrontation Is Needed, How Do You Manage It?

  1. Very good. Roy

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

  2. Great short article – hitting all the main points. A must read for all managers.

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