Does Confrontation Turn You into a Jerk?

There are three ways we typically see leaders handle an uncomfortable topic (and none of them leave the person you are talking to with a good feeling about you as a leader they want to follow):

1) Avoid it until it gets worse or goes away;

2) Deliver the news, but because you are uncomfortable, you appear harsh, glib or abrupt in your delivery;

3) Deliver the news over voicemail or e-mail allowing no dialogue, or deliver the news through a third party

Do you know your confrontational style? What would people say about you (if you weren’t in the room), when it comes to presenting tough/unpopular topics to your team?

Because we get to work with several layers of people within our client organizations, I get to witness direct or confrontational behaviors firsthand and observe the subsequent consequences of the communication. And by the way, none of our clients are jerks!

Here’s what I know “ everyone that we have ever worked with has always had the best intention of doing the right thing. One of my revered coaches, Mike Jay, knocked my socks off when he made the statement early on in my days as a consultant, “All behavior is perfect”. He then added, “…given what a person believes at the time”. Remembering that allows you to be empathetic (a critical emotional intelligence competency), and better able to coach your team as you see people do/say things that seem ill-advised at best. If you can get to the heart of what drives the people you are working with (most importantly yourself!), you can connect that to what you are trying to achieve and move them from being on the fence to actually being engaged in their work! But back to you – how effective are you at delivering bad or difficult news?

As a leader, many of you are faced with tough and unpopular decisions, sometimes every day. The best way I’ve seen leaders handle confrontational situations is to straight out say: “This is not an easy conversation to have, so I’m going to get right to the issue at hand” . Our strongest leaders think about how they want their message to land and what outcome they’d like to see occur after the conversation, and then they choose the best words to convey that message.

For those of you that have a tougher time with confrontation, practice what you are going to say with someone who can give you feedback/suggestions on how your message is delivered so that it comes out as you intend. Be sure it is someone you trust, who understands your audience and who will be honest about how your words land.

It’s easy to be considered a good leader when all is going well. How can you get better at delivering news that is difficult or unpopular?


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