Four steps to overcoming your fear of confrontation

Nov 01, 2018
What are the top four personality traits that are most likely to help you land a job when you qualify? Barden’s Neil Murphy ACA will enlighten you.

I don’t know about you, but I hate a difficult conversation. Whether it be giving feedback to someone that you feel may react badly, having a challenging conversation with a client about an audit file or managing the expectations of your manager during your training contract, you’re always about to be in for a bad time.

However, I also know that addressing conflict the correct way could lead to a better relationship with those involved and better than expected outcomes. The earlier in your accounting career (or any career) you learn to manage difficult conversations, the more enjoyable and productive your career will be. But where do you start?

#1 Take the emotion out of it

When emotions are tickled, either intentionally or not, the tendency for one or both parties to flare up at the first sign of a criticism, threat or harsh negotiation tactic increases dramatically, reducing the potential of coming to an agreement in that conversation to zero. Try to look at the facts while controlling your own emotions in order to prevent the situation from escalating. If still unsure, ask a third party for an objective opinion on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Are your expectations realistic?

#2 Don’t bury it

One of the reason we fear conflict is because we can’t predict the outcome. Because of this, it is tempting to wait and see if it goes away or resolves itself. 

However, it’s more likely that by ignoring the problem, tensions will be higher when you are eventually forced to discuss the issue. Don’t convince yourself that you don’t need to have the conversation or that by having it you might make the problem worse. 

Leaving the problem to fester will make the situation worse than acting on it immediately when it becomes an issue.

#3 Actively listen and ask questions

It’s all too easy to go into a difficult conversation with the walls up. Focusing on getting your point across without compromise won’t work. Listening actively to what the other party wants/can’t do/needs help with is more likely to encourage a better outcome. Think about preparing a list of questions that will help you better understand the other person’s position so you can come to a mutual understanding. 

#4 Be human

Emotional intelligence is key to managing conflict, as it is useful for knowing when to push harder and when to soften up. Don’t lose your humanity for the sake of an argument – as it is your humanity that will likely influence a desirable outcome. If this is something you struggle with, ask a colleague for some honest feedback on how they perceive your conflict management skills. 

Likewise, talking a peer through the situation might reveal some useful, impartial considerations that will help you see the situation from a different perspective.

As you work through your training contract, the ability to manage conflict will become increasingly important, and even more so when you qualify. This particular soft skill is central to career progression, leadership, working in commercial roles and so much more. If you can figure out your style of conflict resolution, where all parties can win-more, win-more, it will accelerate your career like nothing else can.