Some situations are clear. Sometimes there is no doubt someone else is in the wrong. They may not even realize they are in the wrong, but they are. When that happens what should you do?  This article addresses a personal situation and then points out how the same approach can be played out at work.  For example, you’re in line for a check out and someone cuts in front of an elderly person to move ahead in line at the grocery story. What do you do?  Some are more assertive and speak up. Others would be intimidated by this and say nothing. What might you do?


Conflict and conflict resolution


Just imagine the situation above. How did this make you feel? Could you feel yourself beginning to feel elements of disgust and yet considering your own safety? Considering the situation, what might be appropriate to do given the facts? These are your initial impressions. Do you have all of the facts? What should you do? To avoid conflict and yet constructively address this type of situation here are some things to consider without creating confrontation.


Pros and cons


Is it worth it to become involved and even consider saying or doing something? Perhaps this is just a trivial thing. Is this important to the other person? That is, is it important to the elderly person in the example above? Is it important to the person that cut in line?  Is this important to you? How important is it? Is this a matter of safety for you, the elderly person or the other party? You need to decide how important this is before considering next steps. If it is not important, you are done. If it is important here are some things to consider.


Ask a question and listen


Consider the words you are about to say, the tone of the words, and then your demeanor, facial expression and body language before proceeding. Ask an open ended question in an inquisitive tone and ask the other person if he realized that he had just cut in line in front of that elderly person. He may not realize what he had done.  The person may not be aware that he had just done something wrong. This gives the other person the opportunity to retreat across a golden bridge, apologize and correct the situation.  In this way they are not being directly criticized and they don’t have to become defensive. Listen to the response. Actively listen. There may be an explanation that was unforeseen on your part.


What are the facts?


You have interpreted the facts from your perspective. This is natural. However, your perspective may have bias? Stick to the facts as you see them. By asking a question based on your understanding of the facts with something like, “Excuse me, did you realize that this person was waiting in line?” you are asking your question based on your interpretation of the facts. When the elderly person says something like, “That’s OK he is my grandson and he is in a hurry, so I told him earlier it was alright if he cut in front of me when we went to check out.” This sheds a whole new light on the situation doesn’t it?


Be positive and yet firm


Don’t try to prove you are right or that they are wrong. Rather focus on the problem at hand. Stay calm and focus on the issue. If the other person becomes angry or abusive show them that you cannot be bullied, and be firm. By remaining focused on the problem and calm this can help to de-escalate the situation and allow the parties to focus on the rule that was broken.  No matter what stay positive. Speak slower. Be empathetic. Be courteous. Don’t lose your temper or escalate the situation. Consider the commentary from above. Is it worth it? It is not worth you letting this other person to trigger you and for you to become angry. You have a choice. Know that going in. No matter what I will not allow myself to become angry. Give yourself positive self-talk.


Be safe


Be prepared to walk away from the situation if that is necessary. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way. That is not worth it. Life is too short. Your introducing yourself into the situation to address a wrong is admirable. Often that is the right thing to do. However always consider the entire situation and be safe.


Applications in business


With what we just covered, think of ethics, your business and business behavior. In a similar manner you only have one reputation. Once your reputation is diminished it is hard to bring it back. Your reputation is based on facts. If you see something that violates the rules (stealing from the firm, improper billing, cheating a customer, bullying by another employee), the same criteria apply, don’t they?

When exploring what to do consider conflict and conflict resolution from the paragraph above under this heading. Is it worth it? You have to decide whether to speak up or not, and how to proceed.  You may want to bounce this off of another employee or your mentor at work.

Consider the pro’s cons. Before saying something once again consider the words, your tone, and both your facial expressions and body language. Be there to ask a question and with an attitude to understand. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Calm the fire.  Be there to help. With that as an underlying attitude rather than blame many situations can be addressed in a neutral fashion.

Ask a question to explore the facts rather than assume the facts.  You may have already thought about the facts, identified yourself as the judge and jury and reached a conclusion. Be careful here. Before sentencing, stop. Back up. Consider that maybe, just maybe I could have something wrong here.  Just in case, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. For that reason, remain neutral. Ask your question in a tone that demonstrates a desire to truly be neutral without judgment.  In that way you will not embarrass yourself. In that way you can save face just in case you have something wrong or out of context. This is a much safer way to approach the issue.

Finally, similar to the first example above at the grocery store, be safe.  Consider who it is your addressing and don’t put yourself at risk.  You may be new and you may not understand elements of this firm, and its culture for example.


Overall take aways


In a nutshell here are five things to consider when you see someone appear to break a rule:

  1. Determine whether it is worth it to bring it up considering pros and cons
  2. Ask a question in neutral terms
  3. Determine the facts
  4. Be positive and yet firm
  5. Be safe

Hopefully this straightforward and simple approach will help you in your personal life as well as at work.

Good luck. Be safe and be well.


About the author


Mike is a professional speaker, mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert. Is conflict blocking your results? You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]