At some point, all leaders will be required to confront someone on their team. It may be about performance, personal behavior, mismanagement, or a host of other possibilities, but confrontation is critical – and inevitable – in all organizations. However, as Deborah Smith Pegues points out in her excellent book “Confronting Without Offending,” the key is to use confrontation to make better employees, not drive them away. Here’s a few of her tips for making that happen:
1. Confront yourself first. Be honest about why you’re doing it. Make sure there’s no ulterior motive, and you’re not reacting out of anger or offense. Determine the outcome ahead of time. What do you want to see changed as a result of the encounter? What do you want the other person to do for this to be successful?
2. Select the right time and place. If possible, never do it over the phone or through an email. Face to face is always better, and make sure you have privacy. As the Bible says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private (Matthew 18:15). Select a neutral location – especially if it’s going to be a heavy session. You don’t want distractions to interrupt the meeting, but be close enough to other workers or the public so you have a way out if he or she gets belligerent.
3. Own the problem. Speak on YOUR behalf. Don’t blame the criticism on others, this is between the two of you. Not owning the problem is cowardly.
4. Make it timely. The longer you wait, the less impact your criticism will have.
5. Be specific. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t be a jerk, but get to the point. Wasting time talking about the weather, the kids, or sports scores only makes it worse.
6. After the criticism, listen to their response. There’s always the chance that you misunderstood the situation, or got the facts wrong. Plus, you never know the scars other people are carrying. Hear them out and let them respond. They need the opportunity to explain their actions.
7. Agree on the future. Both of you should agree about the changes that will need to be made. Hopefully, you’ve given them hope that new behavior or new actions will make things right. But don’t forget to outline what it will take to move forward. They should leave the room knowing exactly what they need to do in the future.
8. Finally – release the offender. Don’t hold the mistake over his or her head, constantly remind them, or embarrass them further. Forgiveness matters, and your ability to forgive will determine the effectiveness of the confrontation.
There’s far more detail in Deborah’s excellent book, and I highly recommend it – particularly in this day and age where people can get so easily offended. I’ve always believed that your people skills are far more important than the skills is takes to do your job, and this is a good place to start.
Mistakes happen, so don’t think you can lead effectively without occasional confrontation (the same is true in your personal relationships.) Taking confrontation seriously can make a world of difference in how your team operates.
How do you feel about Deborah’s suggestions? Have you ever struggled with confrontation?