Compilation of already published Articles/Ideas/Problems-Solutions which I faced or came across over the period of time. Largely a place for me to document it as note-to-self. Nothing serious. :)
Friday, November 8, 2013
5 Critical Steps To Fearless Confrontation
Last week, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar called Smart Women’s Guide to Fearless Confrontation, sponsored by the Center for Competitive Management. Even though I’ve delivered countless talks, workshops and coaching sessions on the topic of effective communications and speaking up powerfully (and how men and women’s communication styles and preferences differ), it was an eye-opener for me to develop this class. Articulating what I believe about productive confrontation and paring it down to a one-hour class helped me get clearer about my views on what contributes to effective confrontation, and how we can stop our confrontations from turning into reputation-wrecking screaming matches that leave bodies on the floor.
For the record, I’m defining confrontation here not as aggressive or angry conflict, but as the act of facing something or someone that needs to be addressed head on – directly and proactively.
I’ve found that many of us (particularly women) dread confrontation, or certainly go to extreme lengths to avoid it. We do so for numerous reasons, including:
We have painful memories of past confrontations gone awry
We don’t want to be confronted for fear of being “found out” (that we’re doing something wrong or have disappointed others)
It’s difficult to assert ourselves in heavily power-laden or political environments (like many of our workplaces)
We find it hard to master our emotions effectively when we’re talking about something challenging or fear-inducing
We second-guess, question and doubt ourselves regarding our grounds and motives for confrontation
We (again, particularly women) don’t want to be seen as “mean” or challenging
We’d rather it just “work out” magically
Regardless of our reluctance to confront tough issues or challenging people, we need to. We can’t advance, succeed, or grow without confrontation. Engaging in productive confrontation paves the way for diversity of thought, developing healthy boundaries, arriving at new, innovative approaches, better decision-making, and challenging the status quo, all of which are essential if we want to thrive in our lives and work.
How can we make our confrontations as productive, healthy and effective as possible? Here are five key strategies:
1. Mentally prepare
Carefully evaluate what you’re thinking and feeling, and identify the real issue that you need to address. Tease out all the tangential factors, emotions and issues that aren’t relevant or essential to the discussion. Then assess how best to approach this specific person (each person has a unique set of preferences, values, mindsets and worldview) and prepare what you’ll say in detail.
Try to imagine what the individual you’re confronting cares most about in this issue – their hidden agenda perhaps – and put yourself in their shoes so you may anticipate how they’ll likely respond, and be prepared for that. Also, think about the ideal resolution for both of you.
Craft how you’ll state the issue in one or two non-emotional, factual based sentences, and visualize your confrontation in very specific detail (using all your senses). See in your mind’s eye a highly positive outcome that brings success and satisfaction to you both. And if you’re too angry to envision a satisfactory outcome for you both, you’re not ready to confront.
2. Set the stage
Remember, confrontation doesn’t have to mean a “fight.” First, seek a safe environment for the confrontation. Don’t just blurt out in a public meeting, for instance, “We have to talk about this NOW!” Privately, ask permission to discuss the situation, and schedule a time that’s mutually convenient. Here’s an example: “Nancy, I would like to have the opportunity to discuss with you an issue that’s been on my mind about how we communicate with each other. Would you be open to that? When might be a good time to talk?”
Be hard on the issues but soft on the person – affirm your commitment to the relationship, and acknowledge what is going right in the relationship, as well as your view that a need exists to address the particular problem. Say what you need to in order to introduce the issue, but with as much care, respect, and compassion as you can muster.
Find a way to neutralize/manage your emotions before the confrontation, and role-play it with someone you trust – your mentor, sponsor or coaching buddy. Ask for feedback from your mentor on how you can open your heart and mind, and see other options and interpretations.
3. Engage productively
When you do connect with and confront the other party, make your opening statement in a non-emotional, fact-based manner, then STOP talking. Don’t waffle, don’t add qualifiers, and don’t go on and on. (I was once yelled at by my boss – a Senior VP – in a meeting with the leadership team, who said, “Kathy, are you going to stop talking and let us address the issue, or not?” Ouch!) Let the other person respond, and truly LISTEN to them.
Own your own beliefs and feelings and don’t drag others into the fray by saying something like, “It’s not just me who feels this – the whole team is frustrated and angry!” Bringing up others who aren’t there to support your stance reveals that you’re feeling weak and need the support of these invisible others to appear strong. Secondly, it takes the confrontation out of the arena of a controlled, one-on-one discussion into a melee of hurt, defensiveness, embarrassment and shame.
When you engage in a confrontation, it’s important to understand your own preferences and agenda, but be open to explore other possible interpretations and solutions. Do your best not to argue during the confrontation, but stay calm, centered and focused on the real issue.
4. Say it well
Remember that this needs to be an open, honest and direct discussion of what you both need and want. You and the other party will most likely be quite a distance apart – that’s natural and to be expected. Be confident about what you want and what you are entitled to (have data, facts, research, findings, support) and know how far you’ll go, but be as flexible as you can. And finally, don’t take ANYTHING personally. (For more on this vitally important concept, read the fabulous book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz for a powerful code of personal conduct that brings a new experience of freedom and happiness – one aspect of which is avoiding takinganything personally).
Steer clear of inflammatory comments as well. Keep to “I” statements that present what you are experiencing without assigning blame. Here’s an example,“Sam, I would prefer in the future that you come to me personally when I do something that concerns you. I’ve found that I respond better when I’m confronted one-on-one rather than in a group.” And leave absolutes like “never” and “always” (such as, “You NEVER give me credit when we work on a project together!”) out of the discussion.
5. Believe in the possibility of a mutually-satisfying resolution
Don’t rigidly attach to what the outcome has to look like. Explore and discuss potential solutions and alternatives, and try to focus on both parties’ individual needs and wants. Go into this believing that you can strike a compromise or solution that satisfies you both.
Discuss the positive and negative possibilities of each suggestion before you reject any suggested solutions, and decide on follow-up plan that meets the needs of all parties (and the organization.) Agree on what each person will do to address the issue, and set clear goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely). Finally, do what you agree to do. If you don’t, you’ll lose trust and respect, and be known as someone who doesn’t keep their word. And follow up after the confrontation to touch base and reaffirm your connection.
Finally, understand that you are 50% of every interaction and every relationship – not more, not less — so be fully accountable for your part.
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Of course, not every confrontation can or will end positively. But following these steps and committing yourself 100% to a mutually-satisfying outcome will go a long way in making it a reality.
Who and what do you need to confront today? Are you ready to do it masterfully, with compassion in your heart?