work/LIFE: The Dos and Don'ts of Workplace Confrontation

Let’s start with a little myth-busting about office confrontations: They are not necessarily bad, so long as no one’s throwing punches. In fact, confrontations are actually a necessary—maybe even inevitable—part of work life. There’s nothing worse than festering currents of unresolved conflict ruling office relations, not to mention sapping worker productivity and undermining co-worker collaboration. 

“Confrontation is really important in the workplace, if it’s healthy,” says Swati Goel-Patel, director of HR for Pure, a Tarrytown-based insurer with 300 employees nationwide and more than 100 in Westchester. “What I mean by healthy is that if the debate is around diversity of ideas, thoughts, and opinions, there are a lot of great things that can come out of those conversations.” 

Here are Goel-Patel’s guidelines for navigating your next confrontation:

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Speak with the person directly if you feel it will be well received, versus going to a manager or HR first. Most issues can be handled between employees. If and when a positive conclusion can’t be reached, then it’s time to move up the chain.

Consider boosting your or your employees’ emotional intelligence (EQ). The key to navigating confrontation in the workplace is to understand its root causes, which requires strapping on your EQ cap and empathizing with the other party. Companies like TalentSmart ( exist entirely to educate employees about perceiving, interpreting, and managing emotions at work. 

Listen. If you’re going to confront someone, be prepared to listen to his or her side. It may sound basic, but it goes back to EQ and hearing the other party out. 

Talk privately. It’s no one else’s business; stay out of earshot of others. 

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Attack. Not verbally, and certainly not physically. 

Generalize. Come prepared with specific examples to substantiate your complaint. 

Gossip. It’s okay to use a trusted colleague as a sounding board; it’s not okay
to gossip. ­


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