Confront Head On

Sometimes people don’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes the people that we lead are clearly acting out of bounds. These are times when they need to be confronted.

As leaders, we may want to run from these conversations, but we need to run face first into these situations.

The longer we put off having these tough conversations, the stronger the unwanted behavior grows. And the harder it becomes to confront and change the behavior.

One way to check yourself and determine if you’re good at running face first into the storm, or if you have a tendency to avoid confrontation, is to ask yourself if you often say things like: “I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill.” “I’m just going to sweep this one under the rug.” “I don’t want to make a big deal out of it.” “I’m going pick my battles.” “I’ll let this one go.” That type of internal dialogue might be an indication that you are letting things build up.

When I asked my client, Carter, why he had not had that tough conversation with Rebecca, he said: “I hate holding people accountable. I’m just not that good at it.” Carter was really good at catching people doing things right, but he hated the idea of confronting someone who was out of bounds because he was afraid of potential negative consequences. Deep down, he feared that if he confronted Rebecca she could get mad and she could quit. Then he would lose her as a salesperson. He admitted, “Even if she doesn’t quit, she’s not gonna like me.” He was so afraid of not being liked that he was actually allowing a large chasm to grow between them.

First, we must realize that the fear of conflict is just a fear like any other fear.

Human beings always imagine the consequences as being greater and more damaging than reason would suggest the actual outcome would be. We tend to focus on the worst-case scenario. While the worst-case scenario is not likely to happen, try it on and realize that it’s actually not that bad. You can survive it.

If worst-case scenario, the rogue salesperson quit Carter’s team, it would not be that bad. It may even be a good thing!

Secondly, we must realize that conflict does not destroy trust. It creates trust.

When someone is acting out of bounds or not following through on their commitments, and you do not confront them directly, a disconnect in the relationship begins to form. Patrick Lencioni, the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, calls this “artificial harmony.” Artificial harmony occurs when fear of conflict prevents passionate, constructive debate. It is not healthy for a relationship when you are afraid to confront and your fear stops you from having real communication.

Carter’s fear that conflict would cause people not to like him was actually destroying the foundation of his relationship. When you care more about the person than you care about people liking you, when you care enough that you are willing to take a stand for them, then you gain their respect and appreciation. You actually strengthen the relationship. You have to understand that trust and respect are more important to the health of a relationship than being liked. I may think that someone is a nice guy, but I am not going buy from him if I don’t trust him. I may think someone is a nice guy, but I am not going to work for him if I don’t respect him. Conflict actually strengthens relationships.

Once Carter realized that what was holding him back was just fear and that conflict would strengthen the relationship, he decided to run face first into that fear and have the conversation with Rebecca that he had been putting off. When he did, his fear did not come true. What did happen is that Rebecca became aware of how her actions were not serving the organization. She changed. And her relationship with Carter became stronger in the process.

Remember that you don’t have to be afraid of conflict. It can actually make your relationships stronger!

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