Colleagues having a confrontation at work
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How to deal with confrontation at work

23 Mar 2017

Have you ever had a confrontation with your boss? Do you hate conflict with your colleagues? Sometimes it’s inevitable, but here’s how to deal with it.

It’s hard to skate by in your career without meeting some confrontation. Even in the most harmonious of work environments, you will come across a difficult colleague, some negative feedback or a grumpy boss.

No one likes dealing with confrontation, but when it comes to work, not only will you be forced to deal with it, you’ll also have to deal with it in a professional and calm manner.

No matter what kind of confrontation you come across in work, there are a few things you can do to minimise the impact it has on you, and steer it towards a positive outcome.

Recognise your role

Think about the conflict itself. What was it about, and why is it aimed at you? Even if you feel wronged, there is a reason you are involved in the issue.

Identifying the part you play in the problem is the first step to solving it. You can only change what you can control. Even if you would rather wash your hands of this, remember that once you recognise that you have a role, you can start working towards a solution.

Defuse your own emotions

When we feel wronged, attacked or ganged up on, we tend to go on the defence. Emotions run high and before you know it, a minor confrontation has turned into a full-blown conflict.

You can’t control other people’s emotions but you can control your own. If you feel upset or annoyed by the confrontation, take a deep breath and calm yourself down. It’s hard to get your point across calmly and professionally when you let your emotions get the better of you.

Actively listen

When you’re trying to be part of the solution, it’s easy to go into talking mode and come up with the reasons you’re not at fault, or the options that will suit you. Recognising your role personally is one thing, but listening to other points of view is another.

Try to listen to what is being said by your boss, your colleagues, your client or whoever the conflict is with. Find out what they have identified as your ‘role’. Take their points and evaluate what you can offer as a solution.

Dealing with difficult people

Sometimes, you will come across a difficult colleague or two. Once again, the confrontation may not come from anything you did wrong. You also might have done everything you can to defuse your emotions, recognise your role and listen to your colleagues.

However, if all of this hasn’t worked, you may just be stuck with some difficult people. Sometimes, you will have to grin and bear it for an easier life. Don’t put up with unnecessary guff, but do develop a strategy to avoid getting on their bad side.

If you have a difficult boss that you can’t avoid, and other steps of resolving conflict don’t work, you’ll need to learn how to stay one step ahead of them. Learn their motivations and figure out how to stay on their good side.

Learn from every confrontation

A lot of work conflicts can feel pointless at the time, and some of them are. However, most work confrontations are learning experiences for all parties, so dealing with confrontation effectively means learning from it.

Once it has been resolved (or it has just blown over), look back on it. Hindsight is supposedly 20/20 vision, so find something you can take away from the experience as a positive learning opportunity.

Even if that learned thing is just a new way to avoid a difficult person.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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