Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When Confrontation is Necessary

I hate confrontation! I just thought that I'd get that out there right at the outset. I've never enjoyed difficult conversations; I'd much prefer to avoid them altogether. The truth is, however, that sometimes confrontation is necessary.

That being said, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about it. If you want to look at the wrong way, take a peek at how the Parliament of Canada operates - or the U.S. Congress for that matter. In both cases the issue rarely matters, what seems to matter is who can yell the loudest or score the most points with their sound bite. It's not the place to take your child to learn about civil discourse.

The wrong way is also modelled often on Facebook and other social media. The airing of public laundry seems to have become the equivalent of a pre-emptive strike for some people. It's certainly not the place to get into a confrontation - you do know you can send a private message, right? As Ravi Zacharias says, "When we start throwing dirt, we both get dirty and everybody loses ground."

So, why and how should we confront? Let's look at the why first. (Full disclosure: I'm looking at this from a Biblical perspective.)

We should confront when we firmly believe that we are doing so for the good of others. Confrontation should not be about evening the score, or putting someone in their place. That is revenge. In Romans 12:19 God says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” No, confrontation ought to be done, first of all, for the good of the person being confronted. I try to assume that everyone wants to do the right thing until proven otherwise.

We should confront when coming to the aid of someone who cannot defend themselves.
There are times when we see things that need to be dealt with. Bullying is one example. When we stand by and watch someone being bullied without doing something about it, we are giving our tacit approval. One of the most powerful quotes I have read on this subject was written by Martin Niemoller, A Lutheran Pastor in Germany during World War II. He said, "When they came for the Jews, I did nothing, for I am not a Jew. When they came for the Socialists, I did nothing, for I am not a Socialist. When they came for the labor leaders, the homosexuals, the gypsies, I did nothing, for I am none of these, and when they came for me, I was alone, there was no one to stand up for me."

We should confront when it's for the common good.
There are times in leadership when we must confront because not to do so would allow the organization to be damaged. The same goes for society as a whole. There are times when we do need to speak up firmly, but respectively, and confront - when we see injustice, abuse or neglect for example.

We should confront when we are in a position of accountability to someone.
When in a position of trust we are to act accordingly. I am often asked to provide accountability for people, I take that very seriously. If I see something wrong and don't say something about it, that becomes my responsibility. Too many people are guilty of benign neglect - allowing things to slide because they don't want to step on toes.

Those are some of the whys of confrontation. Here are a few reasons why people don't confront.
  • Fear of being disliked.
  • Fear of making things worse.
  • Fear of rejection.
  • Don't know how.
  • Who are we to confront? We're not perfect either.
Now let's look at some suggestions on how to confront.

Deal with issues as they arise.
Don't store up issues until you're so frustrated that you can't take it anymore. Nothing is worse, as an employee for example, than thinking that everything's fine only to be blindsided with a list of things you've been doing wrong for months. If it bothers you, talk about it politely when it's fresh, then move on.

Check your attitude first.
Remember, when we confront, our goal is to fix the problem or to restore a relationship - not to destroy a person. What are your motives? If they aren't right, perhaps you need to take some time to pray about it before you have the meeting. Don't contribute to the problem; be a part of the solution.

Start on a positive note.
People are much more willing to hear you out if they know that you care about them. As someone said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Outline the problem.
What is the issue that is causing the problem?
How is this affecting you or others?
Why is this a problem?

Encourage a response.
Prepare yourself for an emotional response. Often people may feel shock, bitterness or resentment and may want to "vent."

Put yourself in their place.
Try to understand how they may be feeling. Restate back to them what they've told you to demonstrate that they've been heard.

Communicate the expected result.
Focus on moving forward. People of good will want to move towards a solution. Let them know that you have high expectations for them.

Put it in the past.
Don't keep bringing it up again and again unless the problem is recurring. We have all made mistakes and would appreciate it if we could just move on after correcting them.

Here are some parting thoughts on confrontation that I've learned from experience.
  • The longer you wait to confront, the harder it is.
  • It's rarely as bad as you think it is.
  • Aim for a better understanding; a positive change and a growing relationship.
  • If you truly care about people, it shows - so work on you first.
  • It's not about you, so don't make it about you.
  • You really can be nice and honest at the same time. Try it, you might like it.

Related Articles:
Growing a Thick Skin
Key Leadership Qualities - Communication
Are You a People Person?
The Power of the Mind

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