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Managing confrontation in the workplace

Confrontation in the workplace

Confrontation in the workplace is very common. There are many different areas which can cause conflict such as ideals, opinions and personalities. Some people choose to work fast, others prefer the idea that slow and steady wins the race - this alone can cause conflict when working in teams. But there is one thing which rarely is talked about and that is bullying. Confrontation in general is hard to do if you aren't accustomed to it. But fret not! It is manageable, if you have the tools to help you build on the skills to be able to handle confrontation in the workplace.

This blog will cover how to deal with confrontation and begin a confrontation in the workplace.


It is hard to not feel like the "villain" in a situation if you don't like confrontation. But the key thing to remember is that you are not a bad person if you tell someone you are not comfortable with something. The thing about confrontation is, is that you can't avoid it your whole life. At some point, you are going to clash with someone else's ideals or are required to fix a situation. So, it is a good idea to practice how to handle this situation or to start one in a mature and professional way.



Have a particular starter sentence that will help you enter the confrontation.

"Frank, I need to talk to you about the way you addressed me in yesterday's meeting."

"Tori, I need to talk to you about the way you undermine my teaching in front of my class."

"Sally, I need to talk to you about the way you yelled at me in the cafeteria."

"Steve, I need to talk to you about the way you word your emails to me."

This sentence structure does a matter of things. It addresses who you are talking to, the severity of the conversation, and what the issue is about (see colour coordinated identifiers above). By putting it all into one sentence, you won't have three moments where someone could intimidate and prevent you from having the conversation. By saying their name, they can't say "are you talking to me?" By saying "I need to talk to you", they can't say "Is it important? Can it wait?" By addressing the issue, they can't say "What is it about?

All these things can throw your confidence as it means you have to think on your feet and may backdown from feeling vulnerable. They will either say yes and listen or try to avoid the conversation. So, start with this simple sentence structure.

If they agree, sit at their level, never stand over someone when confronting them. Whether intentionally or not, it can appear intimidating and can escalate the situation. No one likes being towered over.



If you do find they want to invalidate you, then a simple "action" reply should work:

"That is fine. I understand you are busy. But since this is important, I will email you three alternative times when we can meet with our manager/HR/union representative"

This reinforces the severity. Adding in someone of importance makes the issue now important to them, and it allows you to keep in control of the confrontation by you choosing the times it could take place. It is likely they don't want to involve anyone and will stop what they are doing right now to have the conversation.

If you are going to have a conversation that feels confronting, make sure you have two things:

1.) A sentence(s) to say which remedies the situation:

In future, I'd really appreciate it if you addressed me the same friendly way you do the others

In future, I'd really appreciate it if you asked me to talk about my teaching outside of the classroom, rather than in front of the kids

In future, I'd really appreciate it if you didn't raise your voice when you are angry and rather just talk to me about what I did that you feel was wrong

In future, I'd really appreciate it if you kept your emails based on what needs to be done at work, rather than venting your feelings. The emails are coming across quite aggressive and I feel bullied.

The sentence begins with a productive way in which the person can change their way in which they have approached you.

2.) A sentence to that will offer a backup plan if it goes wrong:

"Since we are going around in circles, I think it is best that we involve our Head of Department. Let's resume this chat with them."

By saying "we" you are not blaming them or you, and you are putting the blame equally on both parties.

By involving the Head of Department, a union representative, HR or someone else who deals with conflict, you are keeping the matter professional and following the formal process of your workplace. It also means your matter isn't diminished. You still have every intention on being heard and remedying this conflict.

By saying "let's resume this chat with them", you are telling them in a professional way to stop fighting with you and that you aren't putting up with the way you have been treated.



Well, it isn't exactly a catch phrase, but if you have to say it enough, it might finally become memorable. Sometimes we end up in situations where out of nowhere you become the punching bag or you know that one person who comfortably will bark at you (and there isn't much that will change how they are), so having a sentence to say might stop the whack to the heart and may provide protection from further "punches".

You could try the following:

"I am busy at the moment. Let me know in an email and I'll do what I can to remedy that"

"I don't like the way you address me so either set up a meeting with HR or email me your concerns"

"From now on, I prefer emails instead of interactions. Thank you"

"I feel uncomfortable when you talk to me face to face, so I would prefer that you email me with your concerns. Thank you"

By directing them to email discussions, you are receiving written evidence of their bullying tactics. People will also be very wary of what they write so they may get to the point in emails instead of venting their anger at you.

Saying "thank you" is a demand, saying "please" makes it a request. This is why teachers always end their sentences with thank you instead of please.

Before I end this blog, I need to reiterate the importance of following protocols...


Following the formal work process will ensure you are protected. You are allowed to bring along someone for support, who is also allowed to record minutes about the meeting. This will in turn protect you if anyone would like to slander you, bully you or cause any other conflict. Documenting such things will help with higher steps into conflict management such as mediation and personal grievance as well.

The other thing that needs to be mentioned is that you may unfortunately be in the wrong in some cases or all cases, so this formal process to deal with conflict is a really great way to get to the bottom of everything and to resolve any issues on either side of the conflict.

That's hard to hear sometimes, but we really aren't all perfect.

Good luck! There's also nothing wrong with rehearsing this in front of a mirror or while making your breakfast in the morning. Keep calm, be strong, and remember the end goal is to be heard.

Lastly, if it doesn't go well, remember there is always another way of finding the solution. There's nothing wrong with who you are, you're just building a skill from within you.

Time, Experience, Manaakitanga.

Tovah O'Neill

Tovah's Tutoring Company Ltd.


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