Confrontation is hard. When to avoid it altogether, when to postpone it to a different place and time, and when to have it at the moment is a touchy decision in conflict resolution, where timing is everything. Knowing when to address a conflict, avoid it, and postpone a confrontation can significantly impact the outcome and effectiveness of the resolution process.
Postponing the confrontation is often the correct answer. Postponing isn’t the same as avoidance, but instead strategic. The wisdom is to know when to postpone because timing is crucial. Postponing allows everyone to have the right frame of mind and emotional state. Each of you needs to be in a position where you can have a professional/respectful conversation, and often, in the moment, that isn’t the case.
In my article last week https://on-the-right-track.com/when-to-confront-avoid-or-postpone-confrontations-part-one-when-to-avoid/, I shared a story about wanting to have the confrontation, but she wasn’t ready. It was a perfect example of where postponing was the correct answer. The danger of having the confrontation at the wrong time is worse than avoiding it altogether.
When should you postpone?
– When emotions are high. Anger, frustration, or hurt feelings are strong emotions that can cause us to react in ways we regret or say things we can never unsay. Emotions will cloud good judgment.
Time allows us to think through the situation, often come up with “what I should have said…” and prepare ourselves for a productive confrontation that is not destructive. We need time to settle down, think clearly, and regroup before discussing the situation.
– Time constraints. There cannot be time restrictions to have a healthy confrontation. Rushing through the confrontation never works.
Imagine a time when you are having a quick “in the hall” conversation with a co-worker only to find out they have not completed an urgent and important task. You are both on your way in different directions with deadlines. You hear the news that the task isn’t finished, and you instantly need to discuss it, but your timing is off as you are both due somewhere in a few minutes. You need to have the conversation/confrontation, but you shouldn’t have it now as you don’t have enough time. The restricted time could potentially make the situation worse rather than better.
– Public setting. When confronting another, we must have it in a private location where onlookers aren’t watching or listening. Having a confrontation in a public place makes you look unprofessional.
You walk into the board room five minutes after the starting time as you were taking care of a last-minute emergency. As you walk in and apologize to the room, Mike says, “It’s about time you got here. Do you need a time management workshop?” The room offers an uncomfortable chuckle.
You didn’t appreciate Mike’s humor at your expense. You don’t want him to do that moving forward, as it is unprofessional and unappreciated. However, if you tell him that in front of everyone, “Mike, that is so juvenile. I don’t need a time management course. I had an emergency,” you will be seen as aggressive and unprofessional, even though you have a right to defend yourself.
You can’t have your confrontation in front of others. In the situation above, I would make extended and uncomfortable three-second eye contact with Mike; if I could, I would do a one eyebrow raise, but I wouldn’t say anything. After the meeting was over, I would discuss my preference not to be the butt of his jokes in the future. I would do it privately and after the meeting. I would postpone the confrontation, but I wouldn’t ignore the behavior.
– You need time to prepare. Not everyone is the type of person who can have a professional confrontation in the moment. Frankly, most people are not that person. Give yourself the benefit of postponing the confrontation to buy time to figure out what you want to say and how you want to say it.
It is okay to have notes when you have your confrontation. You have prepared, but don’t expect to have memorized what you want to say, so jot it down to prompt you in the moment.
You also may need to gather more information or get a different understanding or perspective of the situation. You may need to get your facts, data, and details clarified and in front of you to defend your position effectively. Reflection, when emotions aren’t present, is important to allow you to say what you need to say.
Many people feel they want to postpone, ensuring they say the right thing, in the right way, and at the right time. Everyone wants to handle the situation perfectly, so they use email instead of face-to-face confrontation.
Please don’t do it. Avoid email for your confrontation. It doesn’t matter what you say; even if crafted perfectly, it will not be interpreted the way you want it to be. Confrontation needs to be done face-to-face (even if that is on video chat).
When you postpone your confrontation, you must give yourself a time limit on when you will have the confrontation. Remember, the goal of a confrontation should be to resolve conflicts, not deepen them.
If you postpone too long, you will talk yourself out of having the confrontation altogether and avoid it. Waiting too long makes it seem like you are bringing up old issues when you are ready to discuss them.
I suggest you have one business day in which you need to schedule the conversation. If, in the example above, I want to talk to Mike about his unappreciated jokes, I have about 24 hours to say to him, “Hey Mike, can we talk?” if I want to schedule a time and place that is private as well as allow him to be prepared as well.
I could say, “I’d like to spend five minutes with you tomorrow at 2 in the Board Room. I have some issues with yesterday’s meeting.” That doesn’t mean the confrontation needs to happen in 24 hours, but the issue needs to be addressed within 24 hours.
“Behavior not addressed will not change” is a quote I’ve used many times (I couldn’t find the author online.)
The confrontation needs to happen in many cases, but it doesn’t need to happen in the moment in all situations. Postponing doesn’t mean you are avoiding the confrontation. Instead, it is a strategic decision to ensure you can have a successful and professional confrontation at the right time and in the right place.