Over the course of the last two weeks, we’ve talked about what it takes on the inside to be able to confront on the outside. Perhaps you’ve even taken that extra step and practiced confronting strangers. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, take a few minutes to catch up on what confrontation is, and learn about how to confront strangers. This week, we’re going to tackle confrontation in the workplace.
Most workplace confrontations fall into several broad categories: confrontations with co-workers, confrontations with subordinates, and confrontations with your superiors. However, before we can talk about these types of confrontations, we need to take another look at how we define confrontation. As we have been saying for several weeks now, confrontation is just another word for a healthy conversation about interpersonal issues. Confrontation can also be a conversation about what you deserve as a result of your work. In the workplace, we need to be careful about calling conversations that involve you using your confrontation skills confrontations – just as you would be careful about this in other areas of your life. In the workplace, you are more likely to have to set aside delineated time for conversations that involves confrontation though, and as such may be more likely to name them. Remember, confrontation is speaking up for yourself or others, nothing more, nothing less.
The top of this post contains a quote from an article about an episode in the first season of the TV show Bones. Like the author of the article, which can be found here, I also think the episode she discusses, “The Girl in the Fridge,” is one where I truly began to fall in love with the character of Temperance Brennan. Though the character is, admittedly, socially awkward she knows who she is and she knows what her value is. In workplace confrontations this type of self-knowledge is invaluable and to be successful at it, you must have it.
One of the most rewarding and frustrating things about being in the workplace is your co-workers.They can make or break your experience at work and because of that, it’s very hard to deal with conflict with them. Although, once again, if you are confident in yourself and your work, it will be easier to deal with conflict. Similarly to dealing with strangers, dealing with co-workers needs to go through the same sort of process of deciding what is worth confronting. The key here is not to sweat the small stuff – keep in mind that you’re probably doing something small that bothers them as well. Some things that you should confront include situations where someone else is actually impeding your ability to do your job. These situations can include taking credit for your work, habits that hurt your workflow (such as constantly chatting), and ignoring your contributions.
When you have conversations with your co-workers about these situations make sure that you remain calm and positive. Always give your colleague the benefit of the doubt – use statements that allow them a graceful admittance of guilt. You can use statements like the following:
“I’m sure you’re not aware of this, but the last few times we’ve worked together, I’ve noticed that you’ve forgotten to include my name along with my contributions. I’ll be happy to help you look over final drafts in the future if you like.”
“You know that I love talking to you during the workday, but I don’t multitask as well as you do. In order for me to be able to complete my tasks, could we perhaps have lunch together to chat instead of doing it at our desks?”
Statements like this make the problem about your perception and not their behavior. It gives your co-worker a way to understand how they may be affecting your work product without being negative. It’s always helpful to frame confrontations with your peers in a way that makes it clear you feel a solution is reachable.
Of course, situations involving harassment or other inappropriate behavior should be handled differently. Some of you may be comfortable telling others when you’re uncomfortable, some of you may prefer to report the behavior. Either way is the correct way to handle issues like this, unless they escalate. Some clues to help you identify when you can handle a situation include behavior that a person is doing unintentionally – most often, they just need someone to point out the behavior and explain why it is wrong. This type of behavior can include men always offering to do something that might be more physically demanding, assuming that a woman can’t – the man probably just thinks he’s being polite, while the woman may feel as if she’s being told she’s not as good. If colleague’s behavior is intimidating or harassing (such as threats or overt and unwanted actions), and in clear violation of company policies, this type of behavior should be reported. Your company should have clear guidelines and policies in place to deal with these types of actions.
In confrontations with the people who you supervise, you must also take into the conversation not only an awareness of what your value is, but what their value is as well. You must be prepared to recognize that in the conversation. When you are attempting to correct or discuss problems that you or others may have with one of your employees one of the most important things you must do is to make sure that you create an environment that is a safe place for your conversation. By that, we mean that you need to make sure that you are not intimidating with your words, your position, or your tone. The onus is on you, as a supervisor, to make sure your subordinates understand that this discussion is about their work and not who they are. On the other hand, you need to also make it clear that, as the supervisor, you expect your employees to do their jobs well. It’s a fine line to balance upon, but the better you know yourself, the easier this will be. Keep your conversation focused, recognize your employee for what they do well, explain what needs to be improved and how this can be done, and explicitly state your expectations for the future. It might be helpful to set deadlines for improvement together so that your employee feels like they are also part of the process. Allow them to ask questions and give them resources if necessary. Your goal for the outcome of confrontations with employees is for them to leave the conversation feeling empowered to improve. Obviously, this doesn’t cover all situations with subordinates that could require confrontation, but it should help you build a solid foundation from which to improve.
The most difficult confrontation for most women in the workplace is confrontation with our superiors because most of these confrontations involve speaking up for ourselves and asking for what we deserve. Study after study has shown that women do not value their own work product as highly as men value theirs. Twice in as many days I’ve heard reports about women in the workplace needing to speak up for what that want. Like Temperance Brennan, you are smart and bold, and you know that your work has value so don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. Women actually do well at speaking up for others, so we need to learn how to do it more effectively for ourselves.
The most important thing to remember when confronting your higher-ups in the workplace is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You were hired for a reason and that gives you leverage. Don’t be afraid to use that leverage. Go into meetings with superiors as the smart, bold, and confident Geek Girl that you are. Let your boss know why you’re there, what you want, what you’re willing to do to get it, and how you expect them to help you achieve your goal. Be willing and prepared to accept criticism and praise. Know your own strengths and weaknesses before you go in. Be your own advocate.
As you may have noticed, this series about confrontation is as much about you as it is about handling conflict with others. Women all over the world still face serious issues relating to the gender gap. If we want to see a societal move toward a true culture of equality we must be willing to speak up for ourselves and to let the world know that we expect it to be a better place for all women.
Next week we’ll move away from public confrontations to the ones we face in our private lives. As always, let us know what you think and if you have any questions.