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The Savvy Office Manager

How to get over your fear of conflict

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager



What’s the hardest part about being a manager? Confrontation. Especially if you’re naturally averse to conflict.

It’s that queasy feeling you get when you have little choice but to corner a well-liked, happy-go-lucky employee and point out his shortcomings as he bats that “Who? Me?” look at you; or you need to tell a handful of workers whose lunch breaks are lasting as long as a Renaissance banquet, “It has to stop now!” Or worse, fire a staffer who did nothing wrong, but hey, someone’s gotta go, so says upper management fixated on the bottom line. Now the termination meeting is in your hands, and a person’s life is about to drastically change. It ain’t easy being hard.

Before we go any further, let’s define conflict in the boss/worker arena. It’s not about you starting fights, acting tough or testing out some nifty bullying tactics. It’s about solving problems before they turn into a workplace meltdown, which is what will happen if you avoid confrontation.

Why do folks shun conflict? It’s all about losing: losing the argument; losing face; losing a friend. But if you don’t want to lose your job, you’re going to have to confront confrontation. Here are some tips to help you:

Pick one battle; notch one victory. Isolate one problem you need to fix. Just one. You can address the others shortly after. The problem you’re attacking first is your confidence builder. Go ahead, pick an easy one, say, an employee you really like is coming in later and later each day. Focus on that one. Lay it out in a firm, but professional tone why she’s got to come in on time. Give her a business reason: Others are counting on her. But her opinion of you will change, you’re thinking. Yes it will. But not for the worse. She’ll begin to see you in an authoritative light, and believe it or not, with newfound respect. You’re on your way.

Don’t ad-lib. Plan and practice your speech. Better yet, recruit your spouse or trusted friend (outside of work) to play the part of the employee you need to confront. Have the friend or spouse deliver typical but varied responses you may get from the employee. Then establish and rehearse your comeback lines. Although the practice won’t make perfect, it’ll shoo most of the butterflies.

Address ASAP. Dragging your feet is the purest form of avoidance. And conflict avoidance is something you’re trying to overcome. The longer you put it off, the more you’ll conjure up seemingly rational reasons why it’s best to dodge. Stewing in silence will begin to make sense. Don’t fall for it. Set a sharp deadline, say a day or two—after you've thought about and practiced some lines.

Think business. All business. This is the zone you need to be in. Everything you do as a boss in the workplace is essentially a business move. You’re a businessperson now: an entrepreneur of a productive workplace, striving to be efficient, fair and profitable. You need to separate personal feelings and fears from the work at hand: getting the most out of your employees with as much harmony as possible.

When you’ve grown comfortable with what was once uncomfortable, your job will get a whole lot easier.

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