By Lisa Philp, RDH, President of Transitions Group North America

When you encounter a problem or a conflict in the workplace involving you and one or more people, it may be tempting to discuss the problem with a person who is not involved in order to vent your frustration.

Not only is this unproductive, but also it creates a negative atmosphere, which leads to further conflict and/or bad feelings between co-workers.

The ONLY one who can solve your problem: The source, the person whose words or actions are not acceptable to you.

The technique described above is positive confrontation messages. Confrontation is “face- to-face” and does not need to be a battle of blame and defensive reactions. The goals of effective confrontation include:
1. Getting your needs met through a change in the other’s words or behavior.
2. Preserving the other’s self-esteem and not attacking.
3. Maintaining the relationship of mutual respect.

Communicating your true feelings directly and openly provides you with relief and results, and gives the other person a chance to adjust or change their behavior.
It doesn’t work to blame, criticize or attack another by using messages that begin with “YOU”. This will cause defensiveness and negative conflict with the person receiving the message and will not motivate them to hear you or change a behavior. Examples of dangerous “YOU” messages are:
• “You’re so inconsiderate!”
• “You’re rude to patients.”
• “Stop interrupting!”

The most effective way to confront the problem is a face-to-face interaction with the source (person) who caused the problem that sends what’s called an “I-Message,” a learned skill, which takes practice.  An “I-Message” formula allows you to respect the other person and get your needs met all at once:
1. Describe the behavior that the other person did to cause the problem for you. A behavior is something that is factual — you can take a picture of it or tape record it.
i.e. “They took your supplies without asking.”

2. Explain how their behavior affects you (in a negative way), describe the impact and how it blocks you from getting your needs met.
i.e. “I have to stop what I’m doing and go find more supplies.”

3. Share how you feel. Describe your emotion by name; this lets the other know what you are feeling and what’s going on with you.
i.e. Frustrated, Annoyed, Devalued

The sentence below is an example of a constructed “I- Message” to address the problem above.
• “I feel frustrated (emotion) when you borrow my supplies without asking (behavior) because I have to stop what I’m doing and go find more” (effect on you).
Since an “I-Message” is an expression of your internal condition, it is much more difficult for the other person to resist, argue or misinterpret and be confused.

BE AWARE: Sending clear, direct and specific message is not without some risk; many people fear any type of confrontation and sugar coat the problem, or deny and ignore the importance of finding a solution. They find it easier to blame, judge, be a victim, or gossip instead of learning new skills to move through problems.

Lisa Philp is the President for Transitions Group North America and may be contacted at or