1. Separate the person from the problem.

2. Keep the focus on the future -- and don’t re-hash the past.

3. Think in terms of "we" and joint responsibility-- rather than "you" which easily can lead to finger-pointing or blaming.

4.  If someone feels attacked or betrayed  when you confront them you might get:  "But I thought we were friends!"  Don't push back with: "Well, we're not anymore!", or "You just want me to feel guilty about this!" Separate the person from the problem:
"We still are friends. But we also have to sort out this problem and I can’t play favourites."

5.  You might get thrown off by:    "You never paid any attention to this before!" Resist the temptation to say:  "Yes, I did. But you were always too lazy to even notice!" Don't back down with:  " You’re absolutely right. I guess I’m not a very good manager".  Focus on the  problem and the future: 

"Maybe you’re right. I should have been more attentive. This is important. We need to pay attention to it now so it won't happen again".

6.  It's very easy to get caught off guard:  "But what about Jennifer? I never see her helping out".  Don't back-track:  "Oh I’m really sorry. I don’t want to pick on you".  Watch out that you don't get side-tracked:    "You’re absolutely right. I’ll go talk to Jennifer right now".   Focus on the problem and use the "we" approach:

" We’re not talking about Jennifer.   Right now I'm talking with you.  Let's talk about what happened and sort it out together".

7.  How many times have you been pushed back with:  "Relax… It’s not such a big deal!"  No doubt you're tempted to reply:  "Maybe it’s not a big deal to you, but it is to other people around here!".  Resist the urge to say: "Well, if you don’t think this is a big deal, tell me what is?" Take a deep breath and breathe.  Keep focused on the problem and the future:
" I can understand how you don’t want us to overreact. However, it is important and we need to fix this so it doesn’t  happen again".

8.  No one likes being blamed:  " That’s not how it happened!   I did everything that I was supposed to".  Don't come across as sarcastic or blaming:" Yeah, right. You really blew it".  Watch out that you don't get defensive: " Now you’re trying to blame me for your lousy work."  Show empathy.  Use the word "we" instead of "you".  Focus on the future.  Stay away from finger-pointing:
" It sounds like you feel you're being blamed.   I don’t want to get into finger-pointing. We need to focus on what happened and how to make sure it works better next time".

9.  When someone feels under attack,  it's only natural for them to withdraw:  " I don’t want to talk about it.   I’m leaving!". Don't make things worse by saying:  " Of course you don’t!   It just makes you look bad! Go ahead and just leave!"  Resist the temptation to withdraw yourself:  " I really don’t want to talk with you either. Let’s just  hurry and get it over with".  Hold your ground. Be  patient. Try to keep  them talking with you to solve the problem:

"I know you don’t want to talk about it.   But I want to know what you think.  How can we sort this out for next time?"

10.  Above responses "too soft"?  If some of these suggestions strike you as being "candy-coated", don't hesitate to change them.  It's important that you sound like you --not like you've just taken a course or read a book.  Adapt your response to fit the situation, your style and your organization.

Adapted with permission from Carl Aspler & Associates Inc.
© Martha Dove and Associates