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Redefining Confrontation

ConfrontationWe hate confrontational people.

If not “hate,” then we at least try to avoid them because frankly, they’re unpleasant when they are angry; up-in-your-face, neck veins bulging and temperature rising.

Even if they’re not losing their temper, steely-eyed confrontations with authority figures create fear and we will forever loathe the next conversation with them.

Or, we begrudgingly admit that sometimes, confrontation is necessary. It’s uncomfortable and ugly, but we’ve gotta do it.

Confrontation has gotten a bad rap. Here, now, I want to declare confrontation is a good thing and is one of the most important skills you need as a leader.

Leaders need to respond thoughtfully and immediately to issues that arise that may impact business results—interpersonal conflict, performance issues, stalled team processes, poor ethics, breaches in customer service.

Candor and honesty are the important currency of good leadership—the art is in the delivery.

Confrontation: a new definition

If effective confrontation is a respectful request for a new behavior or behavior change, we can confront situations and issues that arise in our organizations with candor and transparency. Often, we hesitate to confront someone because we fear to do so will make the relationship worse. We may think that the person’s reaction will be emotional or angry and we may go to great lengths to avoid the person.

Often, the real reason we don’t confront is that we don’t feel confident that we can pull it off well.

Confrontation does not have to involve conflict, and we can prepare to have a conversation that confronts undesirable behavior in a way that feels respectful to the person and to ourselves.

Preparing for a successful confrontation

You can set the stage for a productive confrontation conversation by considering the elements below:

1. In person, in private

If at all possible, meet with the person one-on-one in a private setting. If your office is not conducive for a private conversation, go somewhere else! Imagine how you would like someone else to have an important conversation with you—probably not out in the open or in front of others.

2. Positive nonverbals

Your facial expression, tone of voice and mannerisms all communicate something to the other person. Even though there are some cultural differences with regards to nonverbal communication, we generally believe that making eye contact means we are focused, engaged, and respectful.

Behaviors such as a slight incline forward of the body and an open facial expression also help to demonstrate respect.

3. No excess emotional baggage

To maintain control in a confrontation conversation, you want to keep calm and focused on the specific issue at hand. If this is a challenging relationship, don’t bring up everything this person has ever done that has been disappointing or upsetting to you.

Preparing for the conversation will help reduce the potential for becoming overly emotional or getting your buttons pushed.

4: Using “I” messages

Own your thoughts, ideas and feelings. Use “I” statements to help the person understand what “I” want and what “I” need rather than using generalizations.

5: Focus on desirable behaviors

An effective confrontation focuses on what you want rather than what you don’t want and gives examples of the desired behavior so that they know exactly what you are asking for.

6. Focus on positive consequences and results

This is appealing to the person’s self interest or common vision by introducing the “what’s in it for me?” factor. People generally want to believe that if they make a change as a result of your confrontation, something will improve about the situation and things will be better.

Image: EssG via Flickr, Creative Commons

Libby Wagner, Libby Wagner & Associates, is one of only a handful of published poets regularly welcomed into the boardroom. Author of the new book The Influencing Option: The Art of Building a Profit Culture in Business (Global Professional Publishing), she has been labeled The Influencing Coach™ by her clients. Her expertise in leadership, strategy, management, and executive team development helps organizations create environments where clarity and increased trust lead to unrivaled results, shaping such Fortune 500 cultures as Boeing, Nike, Philips and Costco.


    1. Great post and loved the tips. If any one reads this post with confronting mind they will have a second thought about it. Thanks for the share….

      Shilpi Singha Roy

      http://www.obvainc.com

      Facebook fan page – http://on.fb.me/i9Oifw

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