How to deal with confrontation in Leadership

You’re not a true leader until you’ve dealt with confrontation in leadership! When you work with people you’re surrounded by various personality types, many of which will not exactly see eye-to-eye with you as a leader or work colleague.

I constantly hear stories of challenging situations in work places where there seems to be no solution. I’ve recently moved countries and therefore cultures, which has reinforced my belief that if we choose ‘grow’ over ‘me’ then we’ll be happier workers!

leadership confrontation

Let me explain…

Different cultures deal with confrontation very differently and I know it’s very easy to paint a broad stroke about how ‘everyone is the same’ in certain cultures, but I’m just going to speak about my experiences and observations rather than blame national cultures.

In the country I’ve just moved to, I’ve noticed that there is a lot more offense and unwillingness to face things face-on. I’ve come across several stories where individuals will just blame their own personalities and give it as excuses as to why they wont confront certain people in their workplaces. On each occasion I’ve confronted this by asking ‘why’, why wouldn’t you just step out and decide that you were going to be better than this and that you deserve to be treated better than this? 

Choose ‘grow’

When we find an individual who pushes us around or disregards us it raises several questions of worth in ourselves. Firstly, how is it that we can’t work this out after years of dealing with challenging people? And secondly no matter what I do, I can’t fix this by myself, but how can I get help? Should I reveal my weakness and be vulnerable?

When you choose ‘grow’ over ‘me’ ('me' being this is just the way it is, I can’t fix this and therefore wont do anything) you choose an option that will bring you more happiness and success in your life. It sounds too goo to be true, doesn’t it? I’m not promising eternal happiness and joy, I just want to encourage you that it’s of benefit to be a confronting leader.

Be a confronting leader

If you’re reading this then I believe you’re a leader in your own right, you’re taking the time to invest in your leadership.  I know it’s hard, but don’t make excuses for not dealing with confrontation and don’t allow others to hide behind their insecurities – choose to be a change leader and encourage healthy relationships in your area of influence.

You don’t have to master confrontation to encourage others and empower people around you to change unhealthy habits of avoiding confrontation. I mentioned above that often people feel isolated like they can’t deal with the situation themselves – this is a perfect opportunity for you to come alongside them and help to coach them through the situation and how to deal with it. Often the biggest issue in workplaces is that the leader doesn’t acknowledge that confrontation is needed or they see negative behavior and don’t address it.

Be an observant and supportive leader who doesn’t ignore the big issues that cause negative confrontational situations.

My own honest experiences of confrontation in the workplace

I worked in a small team recently and found specific trouble with someone I worked with, not someone who reported to me but someone who was on the same level as me (often the biggest challenge!). We’ll call the guy ‘Bob’ to avoid using his real name, but Bob became the biggest challenge to my working life at this time.

When Bob came on our staff, he was the most helpful and supportive person who went out of his way to make our lives easier and did work that wasn’t even under his remit – Bob was awesome. Unfortunately after a year and my own role changing to work closer with him, Bob became despondent and increasingly became frustrated with the way I did things (I’m not going to lie, sometimes even I’m difficult to work with!).

Bob started making decisions which were in my area of responsibility and even publicly questioned my decision making in leadership meetings. On one occasion he wrote an e-mail to all our staff asking whether we should all have input in my area of responsibility and asked for opinions on what I could be doing differently.

I was somewhere between shocked and angry, but I needed to deal with the situation swiftly before it became normative behavior. I thought to myself ‘I have leadership experience, I’ve dealt with challenging people before I know exactly what to do!’ so I asked Bob to step out into our meeting room and I sat him down, explained that I had an issue with the e-mail he sent and went on to outline why it was inappropriate and how it made me feel as a person.

It was confrontation at it’s finest!

He even apologized to make amends and I thought ‘Ha! Look how much of a great leader I am’. I thought I’d dealt with it and explained it brilliantly without getting outwardly angry or causing any unnecessary tension. I thought that this was the end of it all, he knew his behavior wasn’t right and therefore would stop.

Unfortunately, no it didn’t end there.

He dug in and made a metaphorical trench between my desk and his, every new initiative or change I wanted to make was thoroughly analyzed by him and criticized, he even started writing reports on why we shouldn’t be doing what I was pushing for. This then caused my Executive Director to sit me down and request that I responded by writing reports on why we should be… have I ever mentioned how I’m not a fan of writing reports?

Ok, I’m getting a little off topic here…

Needless to say, no matter what leadership technique I tried to resolve our conflict I simply couldn’t by myself. Fortunately, my E.D. had a lifetime of experience deal with this and instead of avoiding him or avoiding the confrontation I sat down with my E.D. each week and we went through how I would positively influence the situation that week and over longer time periods. A lot of the suggestions weren’t easy to implement but with the support of my E.D. I came to deal with the situation and although there was always some tension – the situation got better by working at it.

People are not easy but confrontation is often necessary. 

3 Tips to work on your confrontation skills

  1. Don't shy away from confrontation - you may have picked up that I'm trying to encourage you to not ignore opportunities to confront others appropriately. I'm not saying that you should go out and on a daily basis find situations to confront people about everything, but when situations arise which mean that something needs to be worked out - do your best to address it and it'll help you grow as a leader and hopefully grow the person you confront.
  2. Know when to bring someone else in to help - I mentioned above but I literally got to the point where I didn't know what to do anymore until I mentioned it to my boss. It's not always necessary or welcome, but if it starts to get serious then talk it through with someone else you respect professionally.
  3. Be open and know that you're not always right - this one will drive you insane, but it's vital to acknowledge that sometimes you might not be right about everything! A mentor of mine once told me that in every conversation or e-mail if there's tension or you know there will be - admit that you might have it all wrong or that you might have done something terribly wrong. It can often be true, but even if it's not it opens the other party up to you and your vulnerability brings then warmth to help you.

Do you have a great story?

Do you have a story about how you've dealt positively (or negatively!) with confrontation? Don't use real names but if you've got a good story, we can all learn from it. Please share it in the comments below and I'd love to read it and learn something myself. fulfillment

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