The Art of ‘CAREfronting’ Difficult Co-Workers

There comes a day in every business professional’s career when he feels the need to abandon the good manners his momma taught him and tell his difficult co-worker where to shove it.

For me, this was one of those days.

My colleague — let’s call him “Billy the Difficult One” — was operating the camera while I interviewed the organizers of an art gallery for a TV segment. Since I was new to production at the time, my manager requested that Billy also give me tips on filming along the way. But the Difficult One took it too far, attempting to chastise me in front of the interviewees, making it seem as if I were incompetent.

I was burning with anger. However, I knew that retaliating would only weaken my position and make me look unprofessional. Then I remembered the art of CAREfronting.

CAREfronting is the delicate method of disciplining your offender without attacking or insulting them. Unlike confronting, which often results in more frustration and anger, this technique is a much healthier way of dealing with difficult relationships. It puts you in a calm state of mind and allows you to manage trying people with grace.

Billy and I haven’t become best friends as a result of this technique, but we have mended our working relationship to make it more positive and productive. Try the following steps the next time you butt heads with a difficult colleague.

Mindful Breathing — Chances are your emotions are running high, so it’s best to walk away from the situation and practice mindful breathing until you’ve reached a calm state. Watching your breath helps you regain equilibrium, making it less likely that you’ll say or do something you’ll regret. A good practice is to state the emotion you’re feeling as you’re breathing. For example, “Breathing in, I am aware that I am angry; breathing out, I am aware that I am angry.” “Breathing in, my anger is gone; breathing out, my anger is gone.”

Tell Your Offender How You Feel It’s best to do this step away from other people. Take your co-worker aside and let them know how their actions made you feel. Don’t blame or accuse them, as this will likely make them defensive. Sometimes the offender honestly doesn’t know how their actions might have affected you. Try this: “James, I realize that I made a mistake, but the way you spoke to me felt condescending and rude. I didn’t appreciate it.”

Flip the Script — One of the most effective methods for getting a co-worker to realize how offensive their actions were is to “flip the script”; that is, put them in your shoes. Ask them how they would feel if you gave them the same treatment — chances are they wouldn’t appreciate it.

State the Conditions It’s likely that your co-worker has apologized at this point, but it’s still important to define the parameters of your relationship going forward. Let that person know that in order for you two to maintain a healthy and productive working relationship in the future he or she must never behave that way again.

Forgive — This tip is rarely given in business communications, and yet the ability to forgive is just as important with your co-workers as it is with your spouse. Forgiveness frees your mental and emotional energy so that you can refocus on your goals. An energy-freeing forgiveness statement might sound like this: “I forgive James for what he said to me, and I let go of all resentment I had towards him. I wish him the best with all of his future endeavors.” Say this quietly to yourself. (Note: you may have to repeat this step a couple of times in order to be completely free of resentment.)

-By Ryan Jackson

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