How to get the facts—all of them—before any confrontation

© 2009, Doug Davin and Diana Morris
[Featured Breakthrough Skill—Conflict Management: Keep cool in hot situations]

It could be that nothing is more damaging, not to mention embarrassing, than confronting someone when it’s not warranted, when you’re either dead wrong or you’re missing a key fact, something you should know but forgot to ask. All this is especially important when you’re deciding whether to confront someone based on:

• Anything you hear from a third party (someone attacked your work when you weren’t there, your ideas were dismissed as irrelevant at a meeting you didn’t attend)

Behavior that might have another motivation (a usually solid team player making life hard for the rest of the group, a colleague whose actions seem out of character)

• An incident in which you’re being challenged by someone who’s annoying but well respected (maybe they have a point, but just don’t know how to express it effectively)

• A long-term relationship you care about that seems to be deteriorating

• A negative or offensive email (email is notorious for causing problems because it lacks tone and is often dashed off on a handheld. Truthfully, how much finessing can you do when you’re typing with your thumbs at a stoplight?)

…or any other time you sense something’s up, but you don’t have the full story.

The full picture
Gather emails, files, notes, and anything else you may need. Write down dates, places, times, events, people involved. Be ready to support your points with solid facts which will boost your credibility and give you more confidence. (Listen to the difference between: “They say it’s dangerous not to drink enough water in the summer” or “A recent article in the New York Times said that on a hot day, you can lose two quarts of water—the equivalent of four pounds—before you actually feel thirsty.”)

Construct the full picture so you can know whether your decision to confront would be based on hearsay, partial information, or complete facts.

Next, check all that apply:

□ I’ve ignored the issue for at least a few weeks, but it hasn’t gone away.

□ The conflict has begun to affect my work and/or my team’s work.

□ People who aren’t involved in the conflict have started to mention it to me.

□ The mood in meetings with this person is tense.

□ There’s no enjoyment in my work with this person. I automatically tense up in dread at the thought of having contact with this person.

□ Terse emails and messages, rather than the phone calls or face-to-face conversations, have become my default form of communication with this person.

What’s really at stake?
If you’ve checked even a few, it may be time to confront the person. But there’s still more to think about, specifically: how significant is the conflict? How high are the stakes? Is something truly important at risk? Given your goals, is this conflict worthy of your time? Is it affecting your important business relationships? If you win, what do you walk away with? If you lose, what do you sacrifice?

Think about what’s behind your impulse to act. If we’re truly honest about it, sometimes the only thing nudging us is pride: “Jill has no business challenging me on this. I know what I’m doing. And I’m going to tell her that when I see her.” Other times, insecurity is at the controls: “I heard the company’s going to be downsizing. I need to make sure everyone knows I’m valuable, which I can’t if Ken keeps grabbing the spotlight. I’ve got to shoot down whatever he says, regardless of whether it’s a good idea.” Could be something else entirely: “I’m just sick of this job today. If one more person bugs me, I’m going to explode!”

Rely on your Success Partners for support. Maybe more than at any other time, when you’re facing the choice of whether to confront someone, you need a sounding board. Find a Trusted Colleague or Mentor and get their opinion about how significant the situation is and whether it’s confrontation-worthy.

Think through their advice and your answers to our questions as carefully and calmly as possible. If they point toward action, create a solid plan of constructive confrontation. If they don’t, you may want to give the situation more time or take a pass, especially if nothing of real value to you is at stake.

Learn more in our book, Hot Situations, Cool Heads: How to Thrive When Conflict Arrives. Get your copy at

Author's Bio: 

Doug Davin and Diana Morris are authors and coaches at, a professional self-improvement community and webstore. Their original resources—Rapid-Read™ Handbooks and Workbooks, free BTS QuickTools™, Breakthrough Coaching, Workshops, and Telesession calls—zero-in on seven Breakthrough Skills you need to reach the highest levels of success and enjoy your work—every day.

“You know you’ve got a great future ahead of you. We know it too, and we’re serious about helping you. Contact us at or call toll-free: 1-877-512-3400.” Also visit their site at

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