Dealing with a confrontational employee: Steps to stay calm and de-escalate

Resolve, conflict

Even if you go out of your way to avoid conflict in your personal life, addressing issues and knowing how to de-escalate a situation is a critical and inevitable part of an HR role.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially when it comes to difficult or confrontational employees. Keeping your cool when dealing with a confrontational employee is critical to de-escalate the situation and get it resolved as efficiently as possible.

Next time you’re going into a meeting with an angry employee, try these five steps to de-escalate the situation.

Mentally prepare

Before even going into the discussion, take a mental note of your emotional state. Are you tense or agitated? Are you feeling overwhelmed?

Assess your emotions and try to mitigate them, almost like putting them away in a mental box until the day is over. Going into the meeting with your emotions on your sleeve may put your employee on the defense right at the start.

If you feel yourself getting agitated when you’re with the employee, take some deep breaths and try to recenter. Focus on what is being said, not how it’s being said. You may want to practice a few scenarios for how the discussion will go to prepare yourself.

Gather supporting documents beforehand

If you’re trying to discuss an issue or behaviour with a confrontational employee, physical documents can help keep the meeting about the issue at hand and prevent it from turning into something bigger.

You may want to gather:

  • write-ups for the same or similar issue
  • employee handbook
  • contract, and
  • benefits guide.

Focus on facts

Focusing on the facts can help keep emotions out of the mix and help keep yourself and the employee calm. If you have supporting documents, keep them on hand and refer to them.

Staying focused on facts also includes trying to take the emotion out of your verbiage, too. Instead of using an accusatory tone, state the facts and rely on the events or evidence that brought up the issue.

A focus more on facts and evidence can help keep the employee calm. Focusing less on the employee as a person and instead on the facts at hand can help take some personal offense away and make the situation feel less accusatory toward the employee.

Listen and understand

This may seem obvious, but active listening goes past head-nodding and understanding what your employee is saying.

Having a clear understanding of what actions may be considered retaliation can help prevent retaliation charges – or at the very least, reduce the costly penalties associated with these charges. There are steps you can take if you want to avoid expensive, unpredictable workplace retaliation claims.

The last thing you want when trying to de-escalate a situation is to have more miscommunication. Active listening helps to keep both the speaker and the listener engaged.

Active listening includes:

  • Listening attentively
  • Understanding what they’re saying
  • Responding and reflecting to what’s being said, and
  • Retaining the information for later.

Listening also means not jumping to conclusions. Many times, an employee will become confrontational when they feel like they’ve been wronged, so making sure you are listening to their side with an open mind is vital.

It may be helpful to try to reframe the problem or accusation at hand and keep your questions open-ended instead of accusatory.

In fact, it may be beneficial to go into the discussion assuming that the company is in the wrong, and the employee has a legitimate reason for getting upset. Siding with the company will make the employee feel like you are against them, which will only worsen the situation. Consider this: An employee who doesn’t care about their job usually won’t bother getting confrontational and upset when faced with conflict at work. Before passing them off as an aggressive or angry person, consider why they’re getting so upset – chances are, it’s because they genuinely care about the job and the work they’re doing. Keep that in mind as you navigate the discussion.

Conflicts at work are unavoidable and therefore important to revolve as soon as possible. Did one of your employees left because of an unfixable confrontation? Do not worry because our experienced specialists are able to help you finding a new employee who matches your organisation’s needs. Make sure to check our website and let us help you now.


Also published on: Hrmorning.com


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