The Handy Crib Sheet for Confrontation

The Handy Crib Sheet for Confrontation

Before You Confront

Ask yourself what you really want.  It helps you focus.

You’re tired of sloppy starts to meetings.  You’ve made clear your on-time expectations to the group (you and the group agreed on meeting standards) but Susie doesn’t comply.   She came late again yesterday.
To change behavior you have to confront, in private, and ask for the good behavior, with consequences assigned for non-compliance.  Have you heard this catch phrase?   If you don’t confront, you condone.  If you don’t confront, your employees think you accept the bad behavior.   You may think you’re signaling your disapproval (“They should know what I want!”) with bad looks or by sniping, “Late again Susie?”    But that’s unproductive and makes the other team members grumpy and unsettled.  You need to talk to Susie.

Ask yourself what story you’re telling yourself.
She comes late because she’s rude (and lazy, and a bum, and she doesn’t respect me.)  Examine the negative thoughts – and then let them go.  Focus on the behavior.  It’s either acceptable or not acceptable.   Say to yourself:  It doesn’t matter if she is a very rude person, although I think she is, (humph), the behavior is unacceptable and ruins the meeting for everyone.  Her coworkers and I need better behavior.

Distill the issue to one sentence.  I want Susie there on time.

As You Start

Create safety — meet in private, state what you’re here to discuss, share your good intention.  “I want to give you some feedback and we’ll talk about how this can be improved.”

Most of us have an “inner Charlie Brown.”  We relate to Charlie Brown because he is so insecure.  To neutralize that part of us, we seek confirmation that “we’re fundamentally O.K., even when we make a mistake.”  We screwed up but we’re not screw-ups.  Remember that and convey that message as you’re discussing.

To Get to the Issue

Describe the gap (difference between what you expect and what you’re getting) using D-E-S-C:  Describe, Express, Specific, Consequences.

1.  Describe

Describe the exact behavior you find disappointing.  Be as specific as possible.  Avoid generalizations.  (The words, always and never signal generalizations.)  Talk about the pattern.  No need to give extensive proof.  Simply be clear what the problem and pattern is.

Do not guess at motives.  Do not accuse.  It’s the behavior you want changed, that’s all.

2.  Express

Use “I” messages to express how you feel and think about the disappointing behavior.

Start a discussion about the benefits of change.  Speak from a positive perspective and show mutual purpose.  Discuss how Susie, you, and her co-workers can benefit from starting on time.

3.  Specific

Ask explicitly for a different, specified behavior.   “I expect you to stop doing X and start doing Y instead.”    Some tips:

  • Make only one request, don’t pile them on.  One request (at a time) gets the best results.
  • The request should be concrete and specific.  Refer to objective actions rather than personality traits or attitudes.   Do not say, “Don’t be rude.”  Do say, “I want you to be in the staff room on time.  That’s what I expect.”
  • Make the request easy.  That is, the person should be able to do it.  If they can’t do what you need to have done, then that’s an issue of a development plan.  Offer help if help is appropriate.  Not all employee problems are your problems but some benefit from your assistance in making a plan.
  • Make it motivating.  Express your confidence that you will see new behavior.  State your belief that both of you want to move forward.  “I expect you there.  The team needs you there.  And you can be there.”  Smile.

4.  Consequences

Spell out the consequences.  Speak to both the positive and the negative consequences.

At The End

  • Restate what was said.
  • Confirm WHO, WHAT, by WHEN and FOLLOW UP.
  • Document it if the issue is documentation-worthy.
  • Close.
  • Smile.


1. Describing a meeting to change behavior takes a lot of words, but the meeting itself is short.

2. Think through what you think the employee might say.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep the purpose in mind:  This person will stop doing this and start doing that.  That’s all.

3. Listen.  (But be firm about your expectations.)

4. Do not get into a discussion of other employees’ behavior.

5. You must confront.  Remember, if you don’t confront you condone and bad behavior spreads.

You’ll be glad you tackled the unacceptable behavior and will gain confidence for the future.