A Guide to Confrontation

Somehow, despite all of my anxiety, I’ve always been good at confronting people. However, I’ve never really needed to confront someone until I was promoted. This is when I realized that other people aren’t as comfortable with confrontation. Often times, a barista would come to me and ask me to talk with someone else about something that I’d have no problem bringing up as a barista.

So, how do you confront someone without causing them to be upset?

Take on a Neutral Tone

Wait to approach someone until you’re not angry about the problem anymore. If you try to talk to someone when you’re upset, you’re going to say something that will either hurt the other person or cause a fight.

Think about the problem, the best way to communicate that it’s a problem, and then the solution. Put yourself in that person’s shoes. Would you be more inclined to fix a behavior if someone asked you politely or yelled at you?

Validate the Issue and Explain Why It’s a Problem

When you fail to validate someone’s mistakes, you’re implying that their mistake is stupid or that they can’t make mistakes to learn. Validation makes it seem like the issue is reasonable and explaining why it’s a problem helps them to avoid making a similar mistake in the future.

It’s a lot easier (and meaningful) to hear “Hey, please don’t put the ice bin on the ground. I understand that there isn’t a ton of space on the counter, but it can spread bacteria.” Then “Don’t put the ice bin on the floor.” Not only that but from the former helps them to realize that the floor=bacteria and nothing should be set on the floor.

Provide a Solution

Without a solution, it might be hard for the person to understand how to fix the problem. Telling someone who’s new what the issue is, but not how to solve it will lead to uncertainty and unwillingness to do a task in the future.

The best way to confront someone is clearly and in a way that makes sense. Try to answer all of the questions an employee might have before they get a chance to speak. Going back to the ice bin example:

“Please don’t set the ice bin on the floor.”


“Because it spreads bacteria.”

“Where else should I put it?”

“Clear off some space and put it on the counter.”

Obviously, it’s common sense to set it on the counter instead, but you get the gist.

Some More Tips for Confrontation:

Say “Try this,” or “Next time,”

Not only should your tone be neutral, but so should the language that you use. It’s easier to hear “Try doing it this way,” (a neutral response) than “You need to do it this way” (an almost aggressive response). It also suggests that the person can change the solution, so long as the problem doesn’t arise again.

Saying things like “next time” implies that their mistake won’t matter for very long and that they’d get a chance to fix it in the future because you see their potential.

Avoid Using the Word “You”

“You” is a very accusatory word.  Take the sentence: “You can’t just tell a customer that you don’t have something. You also have to say sorry and offer an alternative.” Now, replace the “Yous” with “We”.

From an employee’s standpoint, it makes them feel less singled out, and it brings you (presumably a manager), down to their level. It implies that you don’t think that they’re beneath you.

To an employee who’s new or struggling, your choice of words could be the difference between a shift full of anxiety or a shift of growth. Feedback is crucial for people to develop in their skills, but first, you have to confront them about it.