How to get comfortable with confrontation

How does a leader get comfortable with confrontation? You don’t! Or at least, you shouldn’t. Earlier in my leadership journey I felt guilty that I did not enjoy confrontation. I never have avoided it. I just never looked forward to it. It would not be appropriate to share the details of confrontations that I have engaged in due to confidentialities. I know that I have improved as I have grown and I know how to put on my “poker face” when a confrontation is necessary. But inside, my stomach is usually in a knot. Maybe that’s not you. You are in the minority if it is easy for you personally. Every leader is compelled to confront. When done well, the confronter and the person being confronted will be better off even if it feels a bit awkward or messy in the process. Where would you put yourself on this list?

  1. The leader who avoids confrontation is not a leader.
  2. The leader who puts off confrontation is sabotaging his or her own team.
  3. The leader who is too quick to confront is prone to mistakes and discourages his or her team members.
  4. The leader who enjoys confrontation can be viewed as condescending.
  5. The leader who willingly confronts with aforethought, honesty, and grace is a great asset to his or her team.

On page 124-125 of Developing the Leader Within You by John Maxwell, he shares Ten Commandments of Confrontation. I won’t try to improve on his list since he states it so well. I’ll place my comments in italics. Here you go:

  1. Do it privately, not publicly.
  2. Do it as soon as possible. That does not mean immediately. Twenty-four hours can give you clarity and more accurate information. However, do not keep putting it off.
  3. Speak to one issue at a time. Don’t overload the person with a long list of issues. To do so means you have failed in your duty as a leader to have confronted with other issues early on.
  4. Once you have made a point, do not keep repeating it. Do not keep repeating it. Do not keep repeating it. I’m just checking to see if you are paying attention. J
  5. Deal only with actions the person can change. If you ask the person to do something he or she is unable to do, frustration builds in your relationship.
  6. Avoid sarcasm. Sarcasm signals you are angry at people (and immature) not their actions, and may cause them to resent you.
  7. Avoid words like always and never. They usually detract from accuracy and make people defensive.
  8. Present criticism as suggestions or questions if possible. Maxwell also suggests that viewing confrontation as clarification is healthier and makes it easier.
  9. Don’t apologize for the confrontational meeting. Doing so detracts from it and may indicate you are not sure you had the right to say what you did.
  10. Don’t forget the compliments. Compliment – Confront – Compliment. That reflects the approach I have always taken. The goal is not to “verbally beat someone up.” The goal is to help them to grow, to strengthen your team, and to earn their respect. If it causes them to disrespect you, either you were too harsh, loose with facts; or, if you confronted with grace and integrity and they are still disrespectful, have found yourself with a team member that should be removed.

Confrontation and leadership go hand in hand. While confrontation may not be pleasant, the ultimate resolution can be for one who seeks to maximize their leadership.