Managing Change Toolkit

People in  Change

Handling Confrontations

In most change situations, at some point the manager will be confronting some member of staff about their performance or behaviour. One needs to be able to carry this out in such a manner that gets the message clearly across yet does not send the member of staff away utterly downcast or disheartened.

This is exceedingly difficult to achieve but the following are some of the ways in which psychologists’ studies have shown it can be done.

1.    Have facts at your fingertips

Before undertaking such tasks, however, the first essential, too often neglected, is to brief yourself thoroughly. Almost always the person to be reprimanded will refute your criticism and may well have thought more, and know more, about it all than you.

Have specific details, not generalities, at your fingertips. Never say: You are often back late from lunch.’ Say instead: ‘You have been more than half an hour late back from lunch seven times in the last three weeks."

2.    Be at pains to be fair.

Try to keep some extra arrows in your quiver. Let it be known you could easily be more critical but have no wish to be too harsh.

3.    Criticise actions, not people.

Avoid undermining people’s confidence and enthusiasm. Itemise habits and actions they can change, not personality traits they probably can not.

4.    Control your non-verbal communication

During reprimands and confrontations, when people are looking for tiny glimmers of reassurance, nonverbal communications can more than words. Without minimising the seriousness of the situation, smile as often as possible.

5.    Start with a simple statement.

Nerves can make even the most articulate waffle on such occasions, with disastrous results. When you open your mouth to censure someone, make sure you don’t put your own foot in it.

6.    Don’t rush.

It is especially important for those being criticised to feel they have been given a fair hearing and not the bum’s rush. People under fire must be given ample time to defend themselves.

7.    Seek agreement.

Without bullying, try hard to get the person to state his or her agreement to what you have been saying. People unwilling to agree in your presence will most likely be harbouring resentments, which will later burgeon like tropical plants in a hothouse.

8.    Summarise conclusions.

As such meetings are often emotional, it is crucial to summarise what has been agreed, and what is going to happen, and preferably to confirm it afterwards in writing. Make sure the written version is sympathetic, however. Memos and c-mails can easily sound brutal to bruised and tender recipients.

9.    Finally

When the unhappy event is over, try to get back to a personal level and eliminate any bruised feelings and attitudes.