How to confront people

I posted this status on Facebook about Passive/Aggressiveness it it drove some pretty good insights from friends and colleagues. Here is a conversation between myself, Daniel Pasco of Black Pixel and Curt Clifton from The Omnigroup on Twitter:

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Professional, I’ve always been put in a position where confrontation occurs a lot. Personally, living in New York City has taught me that confrontation is a very good thing, and should be done a lot.

Roughly translated based on our conversation on Twitter: Call attention to but don’t be an asshole about it.

Here are some thoughts about how to confront people.

Do not confront people in public

I have yet to see a situation where public confrontation is a good thing. It is usually never a good idea to call someone out publicly because it is embarrassing to the other person and it opens up a lot of opportunity for people around the situation (but not in it) to misunderstand what is going on. If the issue can wait for later, opt to talk to the person privately.

Talk to the person directly first

Unless it is a very particular situation where someone needs to be address with someone else, it is best to start with the person. You owe it to the person to call attention to it before involving other people. Donglegate is a perfect example of how a conflict could have been resolved between the parties, but it spread like wildfire.

Hypothetical situation: There is a team member who talks extremely loud during Skype calls with clients, and it is disrupting everyone in the office.

Here’s the thing—this person probably has no idea that they are disrupting the office. She is probably focused on the call and possibly wearing headphones so cannot hear ambient noise.

What I would do: Talk to this person privately and say something like “I’ve noticed that some of the other colleagues are having trouble focusing when you’re on your Skype calls with clients. It gets a bit noisy. I know you’re not doing this intentionally, but would you consider going to a conference room or just be a bit more aware of the volume when you are having your meetings?”

You will find one of these things will happen:

  • The person will appreciate that you brought it to his or her attention, and there is resolution.
  • There will be resistance, but at least you brought it to their attention.

Define the perception

Whether it is fair or not, a lot of life is based on perception. You don’t have to pay attention to it all the time, but in collaborative situations, it is important to define it.

Hypothetical situation: An engineer is working on milestones for the next deploy but has not updated the rest of the team.

I would say something to the engineer like: “Hey, I know you’re working hard on this deploy, but can you update our client just to let them know what you’re doing? I know it takes a little effort for you to stop what you’re doing but the client does not know what you’re doing with your time so we just want to update them and let you know what you’re doing, even if it is a brief note.”

The hypothetical client just might be concerned and their perception may be different if someone goes radio silent. Everyone has had to wait for their UPS package to arrive and we know how much a quick update can eleviate any perceived concern.

If you are the leader, then you call attention to it

It is the responsibility of the leader to care for who the people he or she is working with.

Hypothetical situation: Let’s say a team member is underperforming and has been delayed on his projects.

It is our job to call attention to this without making any assumptions, especially if the person is a bit sensitive. I might say something like “Hey, I’ve noticed that you have missed some of your milestones recently. Is everything okay? Is there anything you are struggling with on this project? What can I do to help you?”

A person should never feel like they cannot ask for help. However, that is in an ideal world, and in the real world, some people are just afraid to ask for help—as if they let someone down.

Conclusion

Remember that confrontation does not have to be a negative. In fact, it is very positive to increase the contrast in things. When you do not confront, it allows built-up animosity that might be misconceived from the beginning. My advice to people, especially in the work situation, is to call attention to things and confront in the early stage.