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How non-confrontational leaders can confront

Achieving more accountability with less conflict

Leadership is not about changing others but about your own personal self-discipline. For many leaders, one of the primary areas in need of change is their attitude about "confrontation".

One of the most significant underlying assumptions many people internalize is, "I must avoid conflict at all costs. Letting others know how I feel might lead to disappointed and hurt, or the other person might not like me."

Many agency owners are “Expressive" personality types. An Expressive avoids actions with the potential to result in not being liked are avoided at all costs. And confrontation is at the top of the list of actions to be avoided.


However, "sweeping things under the rug" tends to eventually magnify unresolved situations. Resentment, which looms on the other side of passive behavior, then begins to cloud our confidence and judgment.

Understand that confrontation is not a negative event

The truth is, confrontation is neither "positive" nor "negative". Confrontation is simply the process of dealing with opposing ideas or actions honestly and directly. While confrontation can certainly produce conflict, it can also result in very positive change from both parties. The deciding factor is how each person perceives the act of confrontation and the level of trust each person has for the other.

One of the first things to change must be the idea that confrontation has "winners" and "losers". Winners and losers creates an "Adversarial Cycle" much like what takes place in the court room.

One of my favorite TV shows is "Law & Order". Jack McCoy is the consummate prosecuting attorney. If Jack can prove that his evidence is "right", then the defense is "wrong" by default. This means the defense attorney must prove his point of view is "right" so that, by default, the people of New York are "wrong". This story plays out in many agencies as owners and staff place more value being "right" than hearing what the other person has to say.

As an owner, you must take the responsibility to confront your own fear of being wrong and having people not like you so you can hear what your staff has to say. Confrontation then enables both management and staff to resolve problems in an adult way.

Types of Confrontation

Several different types of confrontation are available. Identifying how you typically approach confrontation can help you know how to choose more positive styles of confrontation, with more positive results. As you read through the following brief examples of different methods of confrontation, try to determine which type best describes how you currently confront situations.

Let's start with some negative examples of confrontation that tend to limit communication and extend problems rather than bringing about resolution.

Angry confrontation:Anger is perhaps the most ineffective and destructive way to confront a situation. This style tends to be explosive, and is typically an emotional outburst in words or actions.

Indirect confrontation: If the owner tends some Amiable characteristics, they may try to deal with a situation with a more indirect type of confrontation. Indirect Confrontation usually takes place in a group setting with no specific person pointed out. The purpose is to point out the need change in a general way.

Accusation: Accusation is a perfect example of the Adversarial Cycle. If I can accuse the other person and make the "wrong", then, by default, my position is "right".

Ordering: Some owners are Drivers. Drivers tend to deal with situations head on, often by ordering others to conform to their way. Ordering is a direct form of confrontation that often results in an attempt to bring about change by giving directions to be followed to the letter.

Blaming: Owners can use anger as a way to deal with uncomfortable situations. Blaming is similar to an accusation but it lays the total responsibility on another person for a problem or situation.

Belittling: If an owner has low self-esteem, they may try to raise their own credibility by belittling others. Belittling attempts to make others feel bad by severely criticizing their unacceptable behavior.

Lecturing: Lecturing is a style of confrontation that marginalizes others by speaking “to” staff rather than “with” staff. It can be a way of trying to maintain control and avoid having to deal with the emotional aspects of confrontation.

Scolding: One of the most important elements of positive confrontation is establishing an adult-to-adult relationship rather than a parent-child relationship. Scolding is a classic example of a parent-child way of dealing with problems.

Identifying negative styles of confrontation creates time and energy to explore more positive styles. Let's take a look at some proven ways to make confrontation a positive part of agency growth.

Confront before the situation gets out of hand

Productive confrontation requires that issues are confronted as soon as possible. If situations continue to "fester", they become more emotionally charged. As the emotional charge gets stronger, the opportunity of a positive end result is lost.

Many people have a tendency to do what is called "gunny-sacking". In other words, they go through life continually filling a bag on their back with things they don't want to deal with until, one day, the bag gets "full". When this happens, it usually means some poor un-suspecting person is going to get "dumped on". And the result from the explosion usually has nothing to do with the event that caused the bag to burst. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when the bag got too full.

The sooner the situation can be brought in the open, the more effective confronting the situation will become.

Stay on point

You cannot solve all of the world's problems in one day, or one conversation. Staying on point is one of the most essential foundations of effective communication. Resist the temptation to "follow rabbit trails" and dealing with additional past situations. Know the point that brought about the confrontation - and stay on it.

If you do not know what you want to accomplish by the confrontation - don't confront.

One method of responding to someone that is trying to bring up other issues is to "become a broken record". It sounds something like the following.

Owner: I would like to talk with you about the new procedure put in place recently for dealing with backlog. I have noticed that your work does not always follow this new way of doing business.

Staff: You just don't understand what I do every day. Are you saying that I am not good at what I do?

Owner: I understand that you might feel that this is what I am saying, but I have every confidence in your contribution to this agency. However, what I would like to talk about right now is working together to implement the new procedure regarding backlog.

Staff: You never listen to me. And now you are telling me that I have to change everything about how I do my job. My way works fine for me. Why won't you just let me do it my way?

Owner: I understand how you might feel that way. And I agree that your way has worked for you. However, my goal for every CSR is to free up time and reduce stress in their life. That is why we need to discuss your compliance with the new procedure we put in place. Let's begin now.

As you can see, this method stays on point by refusing to get pulled into non-productive topics that will only avoid dealing with the real reason for the confrontation.

You will also notice that the Owner continued to use "I messages" while the staff person relied on "You messages". "I messages" accept responsibility for one's own actions, while "You messages" tend to blame the other person, creating a conflict.

Don’t take verbal attacks personally

Remember, confrontation is a "win-win" opportunity; not an "adversarial" conflict. Even if the other person may respond with "you messages", they are really just expressing their own fear or resistance to change.

You can help them come back to center by accepting the fact that you are not being attacked. The other person has simply chosen an ineffective means of avoiding the confrontation.

Something to keep in mind is the fact that there is no such thing as unmotivated behavior. All behavior, including speech, is designed to express a person's thoughts and feelings. The more emotional the "attack", the greater the motivation to protect themselves.

People are basically self-centered. When they lash out, it is likely that the words have much more to do with what is happening in their world than an actual attack on your world.

What do you want to accomplish?

If you are not clear, don't confront. Confrontation is about positive change, not justice, fairness or just making your point. Is this the hill you are willing to die for?

Determine what assumptions you have made about the person's response.

How is your attitude toward the conversation influencing your perception of it? If you think this is going to be horribly difficult, it probably will be. If you truly believe that confrontation is a positive part of personal and agency growth, that will likely be the result. Make a commitment to yourself that you will adjust your attitude for maximum effectiveness

Tell the other person the purpose of the confrontation

Be clear about the issue you want to talk about. This means that you will need to spend some time putting your thoughts into a simple, concise statement explaining why confrontation is necessary.

You will also want to have specific examples of the behavior you are confronting. For example, if consistency is the issue then have documented examples of the lack of consistency.

Give specific examples of the problem that brought about the need for confrontation

A commitment to presenting specific examples of the staff's behavior means that Management must begin preparing for the confrontation long before the actual discussion. Before actually confronting the staff, Management will want to document dates, times and examples of the behavior that needs to change.

Explain what you need from them

End the confrontation with a clear explanation of what you need from the person. You owe it to your staff to be very specific about:

The behavior you need from them and also

The timeframe

How their new behavior will be monitored and measured

When you will meet again to discuss progress in this area of change


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