Face up to it

Are you scared of having that ‘little chat’? It’s a familiar problem. You’re sitting at work when – *ping* – an email drops into your inbox. It’s Sandra from HR asking for a ‘quick chat’. Sounds ominous. You’re sure she’s never liked you and now she’s found some reason to make you really suffer. Your entire body runs hot. Confrontation is not your strong suit. Actually, if you’re honest, you hate it.

Cate Mackenzie, qualified therapist and couples counsellor, says: “It’s not what we’re doing, it’s how we’re doing it. People get caught in a ‘cortisol dump’. When someone is stressed, their body releases hormones; cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone, which hinder their ability to think straight.”

If you want to handle confrontation without getting worked up into a stress-induced frenzy, there are some simple steps you can take. Take a moment to slow down. The minute a confrontation rears its head, you probably react like this: You panic, think of the worst case scenario and then ‘bite the bullet’ by launching into an argument.

Slow down. It’s helpful to think appreciative thoughts or do something that helps you feel better like dancing, meditation, or relaxation, says Mackenzie. “You’re more likely to have a better conversation when you’re in your body, not your head.”

Sadly, it may not always be possible to dance or meditate – if you’re at work, for instance – but give yourself a second to just chill. Take some deep breaths; in and out. Figure out what you want. Now you’re feeling calmer, consider how you want this to go. For example, if you’re about to come head-to-head with nit-picky Sandra, you may want her to get off your back.

“Create an intention before you go toward a communication,” says Mackenzie. “It can be helpful to envision what you would really like and imagine this happening and working. This sets your mind into a positive place.”

To avoid becoming defensive or angry, focus on the end result. Having a preferred outcome in mind means you’ll make better choices and articulate yourself well. Check the time is right. If your confronter has come to you, you can be pretty sure that the timing is right for them. Your move. However, if you’ve got a burning issue to raise, you need to be certain the other person has the time to hear you out.

Before you go bulldozing in, ask the most important question of all. Is it a good time to talk?

Take a second to check that the person has time to talk and that they are in the right headspace. Never attack the other person. When you attack someone, they go into a defensive mmode. We have to go to people with the big discussion in a very calm way or we will engage their defence.

If you want to handle confrontation like an adult, you’re going to need to act like an adult. That means ignoring your gut instinct to start a slanging match and approaching the issue in a calmer, more conscientious manner.

McKenzie says: “Use the ‘appreciation sandwich’”  

“You start with an appreciation; letting the person know you appreciate their time or attention. Think of this part as giving someone a piece of chocolate right before you tell them some bad news. It sweetens the medicine. Then move onto the puzzle; querying what happened without accusing them.”

“For instance, you might innocently question why Sandra continuously sends you emails rather than simply speaking to you in person. And you finish with a request; asking them to do something or suggesting a solution you can work on together. So, you might suggest having a monthly meeting with Sandra, which will conveniently mean she doesn’t have to bother you 24/7.

Nicely done. Of course, in a perfect world, we could all just get along and never have a problem with one another. It would sunshine, rainbows, and all that jazz. But, as we all know, this is not a perfect world. So since you’re going to have to deal with it anyhow, you should at least be prepared. Give the steps here a whirl, go forth, and confront.”


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We will fight for a world where everyone feels safe, valued, able to grow, and be inspired by their role and the organisation that they work for. And that starts with us…