The Art of ConfrontationBy Kerry J. Sulkowicz
Featured on Business Week
The need to be assertive comes up all the time. It’s essential in negotiating contracts, rejecting bad work, criticizing a strategy, or firing (or defending) an employee. Yet some people will do almost anything to avoid confrontation. Why? They may fear that expressing any displeasure will open the floodgates of their own anger. Or they may have been raised to regard aggression as dangerous or shameful, and to see criticism as hurtful. Confidence and character play a role, too. After all, you’re likely to be held accountable if you take a strong position and win.
There are prices to be paid for fleeing the good fight: everything from hours of correcting underlings’ work (rather than sending it back) to being perceived as a weak leader who tolerates mediocrity. Of course, too much confrontation&151lor yelling just to vent frustration&151lwon’t work, either. If that’s your habitual response, you’ll be seen simply as disagreeable. (Overly aggressive people use confrontation as a form of armor.)
The key, oddly enough, is to empathize with the person you’re confronting. To that end, marshal useful facts rather than impressions, offer alternatives along with your objections, and limit comments to the deed, not the doer. Your opponent won’t hear anything you say after an attack on his or her character. And don’t be self-righteous. Or gloat if you prevail. Nobody likes a poor winner.