I’ve talked to hundreds of business leaders over the years and only managed to find a handful who actually enjoy confronting people….but they were also guys who like a good fight in any setting.
Confronting people…… maybe it is a staff member with an attitude, or a disgruntled customer who won’t pay their account, or a supplier who is once again making excuses for a late delivery…. If you are a business owner or manager you know what I mean. It is one of the tasks that leaders have to do whether they like it or not. And the truth is that most of us don’t like it.
I learned long ago that a problem person or issue left alone, avoided for whatever reason, rarely resolved itself; in fact it usually became worse, sometimes far worse. I found that if I ‘grasped the nettle’ earlier rather than later, it would hurt me less than the issues I avoided (usually because I hated conflict). The issue left alone would then become bigger than Ben Hur and cause me to make all kinds of resolutions like, “I’m going to stop being Mr Nice Guy around here and start getting tough with these people from now on…..” And I would for a few days until I relaxed and started to forget how much that person or that issue hurt me.
I realised somewhere along the way that usually what happens when I confront people, is that I had to get myself a bit worked up before I would start, the other person would feel attacked, they would either close down or attack back, and then I would be ready to defend, to prove, to convince….to win. It was always a situation where there was one winner and one loser….and usually both of us was determined NOT to be the loser. No wonder most leaders hate this stuff.
So, I thought how I could make it work so we achieve a win-win situation. That’s when it hit me that a different approach may work better. What if I simply went in early, before I got too frustrated, and instead of ‘confront’ the person, seek to ‘clarify’ the issue?
Well it worked! I was different. The person responded differently. We talked about the key issues early. A lot less emotion was spent. And problems rarely grew larger.
To clarify an issue, whether it is a statement, an attitude or a commitment, means that you come alongside the other person and have a conversation about it rather than meet the person head on in a more confronting way.
It enables the person to explain themselves, communication to occur, for both parties to speak and listen. There is a far better chance that resolution will occur and conflict will be avoided.
I still get a bit knotted in the stomach when I have a difficult person to deal with, but I’ve found that because I have a whole different approach to start with that conflict is less often the outcome and I’ve stopped fearing the dreaded ‘confrontation’ with people
Great article John. Well written, practical advice we can all use every day. I have a situation at the moment where I will certainly follow your lead.
The People Builder
Glad to be of help Grant. Thanks for stopping by.
Great advice John. Yes, we've all had those moments as leaders. And yes, clarification is a hands down winner over conflict any time.
The real key is the going in earlier rather than later. I once led a team of five co-located in five different sectors of the health service. As well as our regular team meetings I met with each of them for coffee once a fortnight one on one. Headed off a lot of potential problems that way. Takes time? Yes. But a lot less time and angst that letting something simmer away.
Look forward to hearing some more gems.
Sounds like a very wise approach to that leadership situation Leonie.
Good stuff John – you're going to help a lot of people with your writing & coaching.
Thanks Paul. That's my plan. Appreciate your comment
A good article. Anything we can do to take the "heat" out of a confontational situation is good. It takes a degree of emotional self discipline to make the change from confront to clarify but if that change can be made then asuccessful outcome is much more likely.
What do you think is the best way to act where the other person/s is being confrontational?
I appreciate your feedback. I agree with you about the emotional self discipline, and that is one quality that will set good leaders apart from the rest.
Re your question: If the other person is being confrontational it is usually best just to listen and to reflect back to them without defensiveness what you are hearing them say to you. Many people just want to be heard and when they realise you are really listening they often relax a bit. Once they stop for a breath, ask them if they would be interested in discussing the issues over a coffee at a mutually convenient time. This way you break the confrontational moment and can turn it into a helpful discussion of key issues.
If they make it a personal attack without focusing on the issues you might want to say that you are finding their approach unhelpful but would be happy to discuss the issues another time if they would like.
What do you think?
Thanks for sharing that that great article. So true & makes much more sense than going head to head. We have a natural instinct to want to be 'right' when facing those situations. Letting that go & focusing on the win/win is so much smarter.