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How to confront someone at work

Let’s face it: Nobody likes confrontation, no matter which end of the spectrum you fall on. But interpersonal conflict is as avoidable as death and taxes. Despite how nice and considerate we are, eventually we’re going to collide.

Ideally, the conflict simply stemmed from something like a miscommunication. In more severe cases, it may have been a result of a co-worker’s overstepping boundaries in some way. Whatever the cause may be, simply ruminating on the issue (or pretending that nothing is wrong while you’re raging inside) will do nothing to solve the problem at hand.

Confrontation can be difficult and uncomfortable; that seems to be especially true when it’s between coworkers and colleagues. But the only way to deal with an problem at work is to confront the situation in a positive, professional way.

Keep it face-to-face

The easier, perhaps more attractive option when dealing with workplace conflict is to confront the situation via email. Trust us when we say virtual confrontation won’t do anyone any favors. If anything, it will make you and the coworker you’re confronting more uncomfortable and unsure of how to communicate with one another. It’s also easy for words to be misconstrued over email, and who knows where your message could get forwarded to?

Though it can be scary, a face-to-face conversation is always the way to go. However, if you’re uncomfortable verbally addressing an issue with a coworker one-on-one, invite a third party mediator – such as your boss – to join.

Give the benefit of the doubt 

Though workplace conflicts can, in the worst situations, be emotional and severe, oftentimes they are a result of miscommunication between coworkers. So before you jump to conclusions, try starting with the assumption that your colleague was acting with good intentions – and that there may be more to the story than meets the eye.

In many cases, often in a “he said, she said” scenario, you’ll find that you didn’t have all the information, which is what led you to this point of conflict. So instead of assuming and allowing resentment to build, when you hear something that upsets you, go straight to the source and ask for clarification. You might be surprised.

Don’t let it fester

If something is bothering you, address it. The longer you wait, the more agitated you will become with a colleague or a situation. If you internalize your emotions, the person you’re upset with will have no way of knowing something is wrong. Therefore not only does sitting on your frustration cause for personal distress, it’s unfair to the coworker or colleague that your anger is geared towards, as they will have no way of knowing that their behavior is causing tension between you two.

Write it down

Let’s say you’re having an issue with a coworker who won’t respect your personal space. Perhaps you’ve reminded this person of your physical – and emotional – boundaries multiple times, and yet they continue to ignore them time and time again. In situations where a conflict continues to arise, consider keeping a written record of each scenario to track when an incident occurred and how it made you feel.

If the issue feels serious and concurrent, take note of interactions with your colleague. It’s likely that you won’t need it, but should the conflict escalate, you’ll want to be able to show how you’ve handled the situation proactively and professionally.

Talk to your manager, if need be

While you certainly don’t need to bring every problem you’re having to your boss, it’s important for employees to know that their manager is a go-to resource in difficult situations at work. After all, part of their job is to ensure their employees feel happy and safe in an environment that cultivates healthy, productive behavior.

If the issue you’re having is with your manager, however, look into other people you can talk to. This may be a human resources manager, your boss’ boss or, in the worst case scenario, a legal professional.

Pick your battles 

While confrontation can be a good thing, and standing up for ourselves and others is essential, make sure to pick your battles wisely. Life is short, and while a person or situation may frustrate you in the moment, a few small, agitating interactions will have little impact on your life in the long run. Nobody is perfect, and expecting everyone in your office to behave in a way that best suits you unfair and extremely unrealistic.

We know that confrontation isn’t fun for anyone. But it allows for honesty and transparency in our relationships – two essential components of a positive workplace environment.

Maura Mazurowski