How many times in your role as leader have you experienced a clashing of attitudes or ideas with one of your followers or even another employee? How often are you called in to mediate or resolve situations where people just don’t see eye to eye on an issue? It happens frequently, doesn’t it? And if you’re like most people, you find these situations uncomfortable and full of emotional minefields.
As leaders, we recognize that problems like these need to be addressed, but so many of us hate and therefore avoid the confrontation we know needs to take place. We say things like, “this will only make matters worse.” “I’m not sure I can control my emotions.” “Maybe if I give it some time, the issue will resolve itself.” Do any of these sound familiar? Probably so. Unfortunately, it is at best, wishful thinking.
Knowing how to successfully manage a confrontation is a skill that all leaders need in their toolkit. If you’ve been avoiding confrontation for fear of doing more harm than good, consider equipping yourself with these techniques for managing the situation effectively.
How to Manage a Confrontation
1. Prepare yourself in advance. Clearly determine the cause for the confrontation. Are you addressing a performance issue, an unacceptable attitude or perhaps a safety issue? Also determine the purpose or the goal for the confrontation. What do you want the confrontation to achieve? How do you want to be perceived after the confrontation? With these answers in mind, it will be easier to stay on target during the confrontation.
2. Do not procrastinate if a confrontation is necessary. Many leaders try to convince themselves that the problem with work itself out or dissipate if left alone. Putting off what needs to be addressed allows more time for emotions to grow and frustrations to fester. The reality is that bad news does not get better with time.
3. Avoid extreme emotional involvement. Never initiate a confrontation when you are emotionally charged. This is difficult, but that is why preparing yourself in advance is so important.
4. Choose carefully the time and place for the confrontation. Go behind closed doors if possible. Confrontation in front of an audience invites embarrassment and offers undue opportunities for “emotional performances.” Consider timing the confrontation at the end of the work day. This gives the other person an easy exit for cooling off and considering the issue.
5. Work to determine the other person’s driving needs. Try to evaluate the issue from their vantage point.
6. Willing accept some measure of responsibility for the situation – admit fault if you are to blame in part or in total.
7. Allow the other person time to vent. Remember, you have had the advantage of sorting through your emotions before initiating this confrontation. Give the other person the same opportunity.
8. Zero in on the problem, not the person. Positive confrontation focuses on the problem. Negative confrontation focuses on the person. Frame the conversation in terms of specific expectations for future performance. Encourage feedback regarding alternative solutions or approaches for managing the issue.
You may not find a solution immediately. You may never completely agree on the issue. But a leader’s responsibility is to address difficult issues and ensure steps are taken to work toward a mutually agreeable solution. It’s hard work – and something that leaders ought to know.
You know, a lot of people like to pretend that they basically have no fear, of if they do have a fear, it’s minor, and therefore, has very little bearing on who they are and what they do. Well, the reality that I’ve found in life is that we all have fears, some big, some small, but in their own inimitable way, every fear will in fact affect us. We can either grow through it, or we can be, well, we can be shackled by them.
I wanted you to think about a fear though today, specifically a fear that maybe most people don’t consider. If I asked you what you were afraid of and we were sitting face-to-face having a conversation, you might be saying, “Well, I’m afraid of flying” or “I’m afraid of speaking in public” or “I’m afraid of failing at something.” All of those things are things that even those that don’t like to admit their fears, well, they don’t have as much problem or as much hesitancy admitting those as others.
But, the fear that I want to talk about is the fear of success. You know, telling someone that they’re afraid of succeeding is counterintuitive to most folks. Most people say, “I’m afraid of the very thing that I’m working toward, that I’m striving for, that I’m sacrificing as a result of?” And, the answer is, all too often unfortunately, yes. Yes, we’re fearful of succeeding.
I remember several years ago when I was still working as a Human Resource Manager in corporate America, it was my job to post job bids. And, what that meant was when a job came open in the plant, our policy was that we would write up a description of that job and we would place it in a public place so that all employees would have an opportunity to see it. If they were interested, they would sign their name or make me aware of their interest, and they would be interviewed and considered for the possibility of being placed in that position.
Well, on this particular occasion, I had a job, a very specific job that had very unique requirements for it, descriptions for it, very unique skills and experiences that would fit it. And, as I was working at the job description, in preparation to post that job description, I kept thinking of one individual in the company that would be perfect for the job.
And, it was so pressing on my mind that this one individual had all the unique skills and abilities, talents, backgrounds, etc, that would fit very, very nicely into the position, that I did something that I normally, in that role as Human Resource Manager, that I normally would have never done.
I went and posted the job on the board, but then I made a beeline to this particular individual. I sat down across her desk and I said…we’ll call her Wanda. I said, “Wanda, do you realize that there’s a job posting for a job.” And, I mentioned the job. “There’s a job posting up now for consideration.” She said, “Yeah, I knew that that was going up.” I said, “Well, I’m glad. Have you thought about that job?” And she said, “Well, yeah. I’m pretty familiar with the job.”
I said to her then, “Wanda, I’ve been thinking about the job and as far as I can tell from the requirements of the job versus what you bring to your position today, you would be the perfect candidate. You have the right experience. You have the right education. You have the right temperament.” It just went on and on. “You would be the perfect candidate for this particular job.”
To my surprise, she looked at me and said, “Yes, I would. Yes, I would, Phil. I thought exactly the same thing. I read the job description, or at least was familiar with it, and I know that I could do this job. I could be successful in this job. I know I would be the perfect candidate for this job.” I went, “Well, that’s great. So, you’re going to sign up for the job then?” She said, “Oh, no. No, I’m not.”
I said, “You’re not? You just now said you’d be a perfect fit for the job.” She said, “Yes, I would.” I said, “Then, why not sign up for the job?” She looked at me, and she said, “Phil, when I was successful in this job, and I would eventually be successful, the reason I’m not signing up is I would not know what you guys would want me to do next.”
In other words, she was saying, “I have no fear that I would be successful. I only fear what would happen as a result of the success.” In other words, because she could not predict what would happen next, she would choose not to be successful at something she was, well, ultimately confident that she could, in fact, succeed at.
Think about that for a moment. It happens a lot. Sales people do not exceed their quota, even though they could, even though they’re having a wonderful quarter or a wonderful year, they don’t go beyond what their quota is because they’re fearful that exceeding their quota this year means that they might have their quota raised next year. Never mind that they could reach it easily. Never mind that would even benefit or profit from it. They don’t like the idea of being successful and not being able to predict what that will entail in the future.
I think that’s very shortsighted for leaders. I think we, as leaders, need to be constantly and continuously striving for success, success in our communications, success in our visioning, success in literally everything that we do as a leader without fear of what will happen, but rather, with faith that what does happen in the future would be able to be attended to, accomplished, and succeeded at.
I’ve always said that success breeds success, but unfortunately, fear also breeds new fears. As leaders, I think we need to lead in such a way that others see us striving for success even when the future is still unknown. In so doing, we may set the standard and we may offer a picture of encouragement for others who would be following us.
Anything we can do to be successful and help others be successful at the same light without the fears that may be associated with those successes, well, as far as I’m concerned, those are things we need to think about. Those are things that leaders ought to know.
Were you taught the “leadership lie”? The one that says leaders shouldn’t get close to their people.
In this brief video, I debunk the leadership lie and explain what “getting close to” followers should really mean for leaders.
Watch This Video Post: Leaders Who Lose Their Temper
As Yogi Berra would say: “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
Here’s the scenario. Some high profile individual — could be a politician, athlete, entertainer, business leader — take your pick — says, does and/or posts something publicly that would have been better left unsaid, undone and unposted. The media soon gets wind of the developments. They initially salivate, then regurgitate the lurid details of the transgression in one story form after another. The public’s awareness is raised. Hired guns, critics and commentators weigh in loudly. Public opinion polls are cited. Former friends, colleagues and competitors seem shocked by the news of such inappropriate and unseemly behavior. The perpetrator finally faces his/her critics and apologizes publicly. Crocodile tears are shed. The open flogging continues until some other public wrongdoing is unearthed and the process begins anew.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. As a result we are left asking ourselves why this scenario repeats itself again and again. Aren’t people paying attention? Can’t people learn from the mistakes of others who have preceded them? Why do smart, successful people do such blatantly foolish things? I don’t really know. I suppose there are those who crave attention so badly they will do and say outlandish things, regardless how they will be perceived. Some people seem to believe they are above the rules that everyone else plays by and therefore, they can say or do whatever they like without repercussions. Of course, we can’t discount the rock solid fact that some folks are just plain stupid. As one of my friends likes to say, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you better be tough.”
The most recent foolishness du jour (ala Rep. Anthony Weiner), reminded me that for leaders, the spotlight is always on you, the camera never blinks and regardless your position, there is no such thing as “off the record” comments. If you say or write something inappropriate, it can and will be used against you by others. Therefore, I will remind leaders of four things that should not be committed to writing. Consider the following.
1. Don’t write it down if it is embarrassing.
None of us can escape embarrassing situations or circumstances. It’s a part of life and work. When they occur, they need to be dealt with accordingly. However, it’s hard to find a good reason to commit our own private embarrassments to paper. And it is virtually impossible to create a defensible reason for writing the embarrassments of others. Don’t do it.
2. Don’t write it down if it is unsubstantiated or based on rumors.
Facts rule. If there is something that truly needs to be captured and communicated, make sure it has been vetted appropriately before writing it down. The “rule of two” applies here. For information to be substantiated, it should be confirmed by at least two independent sources, each with facts to support their individual assertions or conclusions. If such substantiated information is unavailable, what you are dealing with are rumors, and leaders should not perpetuate rumors by speaking or writing them.
3. Don’t write it down if it is an inside joke.
A lot of foolish people have attempted to defend something inappropriate that they have done or said by playing the Joker card. They contend, “I was only joking. You have simply misinterpreted what I said or meant.” Maybe so, but if the information is written in such that a regular guy or gal wouldn’t understand the content and the humor immediately, don’t run the risk of writing it down and therefore, confusing readers and embarrassing yourself.
4. Don’t write it down if it is written in anger.
People have told me that writing their anger can be cathartic. Okay, if you absolutely must write your anger out, do so on paper, by hand, far removed from the computer’s “send” button or an envelope and stamp. I suggest you remove the temptation to vent, write and send a message that should have never been committed to paper or digital print in the first place.
Let’s face it, people will continue to behave badly. History will repeat itself. High placed individuals will continue to do and say things that will leave us average Joes scratching our heads and wondering, what were they thinking?
But as leaders, we must be more disciplined and deliberate than that. We must think before we speak and before we write. To do less can cause unnecessary and untold confusion, disappointment and frustration—all leading to the lessening of your leadership opportunities.
Now it’s your turn — what other times should a leader refrain from writing? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Phillip Van Hooser