Leadership and the Art of Confrontation

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When you become a boss you become someone responsible for the performance of a group. In that instant, you become the designated confronter.

Some people will behave poorly. Some will underperform. Someone needs to confront them about it and you’re it. Others may choose to, but it’s your job.

You probably won’t like it. Over the years, I polled the participants in my supervisory skills classes about what they hated most. Confronting team members about behavior or performance always came in number one or two. The other top item was always, “dealing with my boss.”

You have to do it and it won’t be fun. But you can do things that make it less likely that a confrontation will be ugly and more likely that it will be successful.

Develop relationships with your team members. When you have a relationship with someone both of you are more willing to listen. You develop relationships with team members by showing up a lot and having conversations that include more than work items. Those friendly conversations will make difficult conversations easier.

Don’t put it off. A behavior or performance problem is like a rotten piece of fruit. They don’t get better by themselves and the longer they go, the worse they get.

Set things up so the conversation is more likely to succeed. Choose a private and safe place. Eliminate interruptions.

Remember that your goal is for the team member to leave the conversation concentrating on what they will do differently, not on how you treated them.

Plan what you’re going to say. Adapt your opening to the person you’ll be talking to. Some prefer small talk before you get down to business. Others want to get right to the reason for your chat.

Be factual and objective. Describe the behavior or performance that should change without adjectives. Indicate why it’s important to get right.

Wait for the other person to talk next. When you’ve said your piece, shut up. Now it’s the other person’s turn. They may surprise you by sharing a circumstance you hadn’t considered. They may think you’re wrong and present their own evidence. They may say, “Yeah, you’re right.” You can only have a conversation if you let them say their piece.

What you talk about next depends on what your team member says. Imagine some possibilities and how you’ll respond.

Don’t end the session until you’ve agreed on three things. Agree on what will change. Agree on when it will change. Agree on how both of you will know that it’s changed.

Boss’s Bottom Line

When you’re the boss, you’re the designated confronter. Learn how to do that part of your job well.

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