Erica Pinsky



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The Best of Erica 10


Confrontation vs Conversation

Speak Up for Business Success


It is five years since this post came out in February 2010 and in that time, the “speak up” piece of the Respect Business continued to expand and grow. It became the most popular and requested of my presentations. In 2012 we released the Road to Respect Speak Up eGuide with tips and tools to empower you to speak up respectfully.


The ability to speak up respectfully, the willingness to step into our power, to be our own advocate is the ultimate answer to ending workplace disrespect. A simple solution. Alas, as I have learned over the past 15 years, also something the majority of us are often unwilling to risk doing. Fear of confrontation is mighty powerful.



What choice do employees in your workplace make when they are on the receiving end of disrespectful or problematic behaviour?


What choice do they make when they see a problem,
or have an idea about a new business process or product?


Do they speak up and speak out, or do they choose to remain silent,
to Put up and Shut up.


That choice has a direct impact on the heath of any business. That choice affects productivity, organizational effectiveness, team dynamics, creativity, engagement and bottom line profitability.


In last month’s e-news, I featured an interview with values based top employer Nurse Next Door. Like other employers of choice I feature in Road to Respect and in this e-newsletter, the workplace culture at Nurse Next Door empowers employees to speak up, to raise issues, to talk about problems and ask for help.  Speaking up is a cultural norm that promotes organizational success.


Unfortunately, the cultural norm of speaking up experienced by the employees at Nurse Next Door is the exception rather than the rule. In most workplaces, employees routinely make the choice to put up and shut up. In cases of disrespectful behaviour like harassment and bullying, a first incident typically turns into a pattern, one that has dire consequences for the individuals involved and their workplace. Productivity drops, absenteeism rises, teamwork and service delivery degenerate.


Research shows that individuals on the receiving end of disrespect at work spend up to 50% of their time on the job dealing with the effects of the disrespectful behaviour.


New ideas, creativity and innovation are stifled by the fear that disrespect spawns. Math may not be my strong suit, but it is fairly obvious that if employees are spending almost half their time focused on something other than the job that they are being paid to do, that is a serious business problem.


To prevent this outcome employees must be empowered to speak up, to give respectful feedback when they have concerns, problems or are experiencing disrespectful behaviour at work. In a respectful workplace culture, speaking up is the status quo, “the way it is around here.”


One of the ways I support clients interested in developing this norm within their workplaces is a presentation entitled Speak Up Speak Out: Personal Power and Respect in the Workplace. The session is designed to equip employees to be able to express themselves respectfully at work. We talk about the reasons we don’t speak up: cultural norms, fear, power and the communication skill gap.


While of course most of us know how to communicate, very few of us know how to communicate effectively and respectfully, particularly in a conflict situation. In my training sessions, I share some simple communication models which provide a framework to allow employees to speak up with respect.


After reviewing the models I always ask participants what they think of them.  More often than I would care to remember, someone inevitably says that while the models seem great, they don’t know if they would use them. When I ask why not I hear a variation of  “I hate confrontation.”


What I interpret that to mean is that confrontation, rather than conversation, is the cultural norm in their workplace. Their experience is that giving feedback, speaking up, means a confrontation. And let’s face it, most of us will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. As a result, issues that are interfering with an individual’s ability to do their job well, to achieve their full potential and contribute to the success of the business are not being dealt with. That silence is slowly killing any chance for top employer status.


Companies looking to emulate the success of Nurse Next Door and other Employers of Choice must create workplace cultures where speaking up becomes a cultural norm. To respond to market demands and the ever increasing pace of change which is the new organizational reality, companies need to have adaptable, responsive cultures, where employees are empowered and able to speak up and speak out to those they work with as well as those they report to.


In today’s marketplace it is no longer enough to provide employees with the technical skills they need to do their jobs. They must also be provided with the communication skills they need to do their jobs. To avoid the dreaded confrontation, conversation - the willingness to listen, consider divergent perspectives, give feedback and engage in respectful dialogue with others should become the norm for all employees at work.


A foundation of respectful conversation builds cohesive and productive teams and businesses. It promotes creativity and continuous improvement while ensuring that disrespectful behaviours are not going unreported and bleeding away productivity and profitability.


What is the experience of employees in your workplace when they speak up? Is the norm conversation or confrontation? Are you willing to risk not knowing the answer to that question?


One woman was talking about a staff member who seemed to have no idea as to what constituted appropriate workplace behaviour. Apparently this is a common problem because the other woman seemed to be experiencing a lot of the same issues at her workplace.



"In her book, Erica provides a wake-up call for employers by detailing why respect, as a core value, is so imperative. She then provides a persuasive argument why organizations should embark on the road map to respect. Particularly compelling are her personal workplace anecdotes as well as the case studies featuring some of the largest companies in Canada, who are getting respect right."

Melanie Sklarz
Diversity and Respect Coordinator
Edge Learning of Ohio RespectfulWorkplace.com