Dealing with Confrontation

While the holiday season is a time for joy and peace, too often it just isn’t. There can be tension around get-togethers with family, friends and co-workers that may cause unwanted stress and unexpected confrontations that can quickly squash the happy holiday spirit.

So what can you do when a family member, friend or co-worker gets nasty and publicly confronts or humiliates you? How should you respond? These difficult situations can either escalate into higher levels of conflict or be squashed in infancy, depending on how they’re dealt with and your desire to manage conflict rather than avoid it. Here are some proven ways to reduce the impact.

It’s Not a War

In social confrontations (which include confrontations between leaders and followers, co-workers, or employees and customers, family or friends), you’re stronger when you don’t allow your ego to feel bruised and respond before thinking about what you are doing. Think before you act and take steps to preserve mutual dignity; for yourself and the other person.

Tactics to Get You Through

Here are some ways to handle things:

Apply Self Control—Keep your anger in check and then speak to the person privately afterwards to air things out; avoid a knee-jerk” response that you’ll regret later. An angry response directed back to the person is likely to escalate the conflict and may result in an outcome that you really don’t want or expect.

Clarify—Make sure you are clear about the accusation being made. Repeat it back to gain understanding as to the intent of the communication before you draw any conclusions.

Examine—Try to examine where the person’s emotion is “coming from”. Are they seeing things from a different perspective than you because of generational differences, cultural differences, etc? It’s easy to take things the wrong way unless we try to understand the cultural norms of others.

Consider your response to this situation—And consider that how you handle it is a model for others watching. What message are you sending to people around you—be it staff, younger family members, or others, if you respond back with and equal dose of anger?

Accept Responsibility—Accept some responsibility for the criticism aimed at you. Honestly ask yourself, was it fair? Did you deserve it? Did you watch for body language in conversations and meetings as cues as to whether the person you are communicating with was reaching a “boiling point” and was about to explode? Was it time to stop pursuing the issue? Should you have called a “time out”?

Show Respect—Respect and accept the person’s opinion; their wisdom. What can you do to change their view?

Acknowledge the emotion—Give the other person “space” to decompress before confronting the issue with them. A cool down period helps for both parties to see things more clearly. But don’t let people steam either. Make sure to follow-up with the person and ask for resolution by discussing the situation directly and trying to resolve differences.

Inform—if you feel the behaviour towards you was unjust, call out the behaviour to the person in private to let them know it was not appropriate. Hopefully, they will be less likely to do it again.

Use passive resistance as a possible way to get your message through—You may want to consider taking a “strike day” from regular duties if the other person repeats the behaviour. This action may send the message about how you feel and also demonstrate the possible consequence of the person’s inappropriate behaviour.

Bystander’s Role—as a bystander to emotional outbursts occurring in front of you what steps can you take to diffuse a situation that is escalating into conflict? Is there a possibility to call a “time out”? Can you encourage both parties to acquiesce and re-group when things have “cooled down”? Or perhaps you can try to follow-up with each of them to make sure that they meet and work on resolving their issues so that they do not stew over it and let the conflict escalate further?

Work for Positive Outcomes

We all have our own history of experience with conflict that was first formed in our family and expanded at school and in the workplace. Unfortunately, negotiating openly with others around what we want and need is not often modeled or encouraged in our society.

It takes real courage to move past feelings of anger and humiliation and look at ourselves critically to consider our own role in the dispute. More often than not, people avoid confrontation and do not consider direct discussion with the other party until other options have proven unsuccessful or the conflict becomes intolerable. This makes it harder to resolve. While it is natural to avoid situations of discomfort, effective conflict management requires us to overcome our discomfort and learn to discuss differences directly.

By projecting that your genuine intention is to arrive at the best solution for everyone and that you care about the other person’s well-being, will ultimately help the other person move towards, rather than away from you, so that true resolution has a chance.

Sometimes you may act more respectfully than your adversary. There may be moments when it will be hard to take, and there’s nothing wrong with calling someone to task for disrespect. Still, the innate dignity that produces your respectful demeanour and encourages you to seek, rather than avoid resolution, is one of the characteristics that will make you a great leader.

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh.

On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends.

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