How to Avoid Every Confrontation

Most people hate confrontation. Most people who don’t hate confrontations go into them with the worst of motives. They want to “win” the confrontation at all costs. 

When someone needs to be confronted Authentic Leaders confront them. But they do it with empathy and compassion. Their goal isn’t to “win” a confrontation. Their goals are for both sides to maintain their self esteem, better understand their situation and to build a stronger relationship. 

Those goals are achievable but only if the confrontation actually takes place. 

Avoiding a confrontation comes with great costs, to both sides. The person not being confronted may have no idea what they are doing or saying is an issue for anyone. The cost for them of not being confronted is they lose the opportunity to improve. They lose the opportunity for a closer relationship. They may lose an opportunity for promotion at work or potentially, even their job. 

The cost for the individual who refuses to confront them can be even greater. Their lack of courage to confront someone can result in never ending frustration, poor mental health, damaged relationships and if they are in a leadership position, poor performance on the part of the people they lead.

All confrontations can be avoided by simply not confronting anyone. It’s easy, just do nothing. You do need to realize however that the consequences of avoiding confrontations cannot be avoided. You may think you’re better off not confronting someone but you would be wrong. 

There are ways to make the confrontation beneficial to both parties, but it takes a bit of effort. To confront in the right way pay attention to these key points:

Stick to the facts. Do you understand the facts? How you asked enough questions to understand the situation from all sides? Are you confronting in anger with raw emotion or are you prepared to confront with compassion built on a desire to help? Is there an upside to the confrontation that is measurable? Keep in mind if nothing can change then nothing will change. If you’re confronting someone over a situation that cannot change then you’re actually just “venting.” Venting is very one sided because while you may feel better for a short time it doesn’t help anyone else. 

Know the person you’re confronting. How much do you know about the person you’re about to confront? Unless you know the person well it’s best to begin your conversation with questions. If you begin with a tone of confrontation you risk shutting the other person down. That stalls most progress that may have been possible. If you want the other person to change something about their behavior then don’t start with criticism. Keep in mind, it will be very difficult for you to help someone see a benefit to changing their behavior if you don’t understand why they behave the way they do.

Make the fault seem easy to correct. Never make a situation worse than it is. Do not exaggerate. Your confrontation must be based on documented facts, not opinions. You MUST approach a confrontation with an open mind and be willing to admit that you may be a part of the reason for the confrontation. No matter your title, your role or your level of success, always consider the possibility that the real source of the problem stares back at you from the mirror every morning. 

Move forward towards improvement. Once you laid out your “case” then allow some time for the message to sink in. Ask the other person if they can restate what you’ve said to make certain what you said was understood. Then move forward. An effective confrontation need not be a lengthy conversation. You don’t need to bury the other person with examples, especially old examples from years past. Finish with a compliment. If you can’t think of a compliment then you’re not yet ready for a confrontation. Refer to the second thing to keep in mind. Get to know and understand the person before you confront them.

Above all, don’t think of confrontation in terms of winning and losing. It’s about caring enough to confront with compassion and helping another human being become the best possible version of themselves.

The Courage to Confront

Authentic Servant Leaders have courage. This allows them to make tough choices, it allows them to take calculated risks. Courage is their “secret sauce,” it’s what often separates them from lesser leaders. 

This courage also helps them confront people who need to be confronted. Because they are Authentic Servant Leaders when they confront someone they will do it with compassion. They confront people for two reasons, there is a problem that needs to be corrected and they care enough to want to help the person correct it. 

Sadly, Authentic Servant Leaders are few and far between so this post on confrontation is not about them.

It’s about your everyday leader, what I’d call an average leader. They are by far the largest occupier of so-called leadership positions within organizations both large and small. They do a lot of things right and some things wrong, I guess that’s why they are average.

Confrontation, or rather lack of confrontation, is one of the biggest shortcomings of an average leader. They are just as clear-eyed as any leader in that they see the same problems as anyone other leader. It’s just that they don’t deal with it.

Some of these average leaders are just lazy. Some “hope” it will just go away, some figure “the next guy can deal with it.” A few just put their head in the sand and pretend there are no issues worth confronting. 

Some are just afraid. They lack the courage to confront.

Fear holds us back! Make no mistake about this fact, fear has kept many very talented people from succeeding. Fear has kept many people will the skill to succeed from using their skills in the pursuit of success. Fear greatly limits success.

The great Dale Carnegie once said the only place fear is real is in our mind. The point was that the only way to really eliminate fear is to change our thinking. In his book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” he writes that one way to overcome the stress of fear is to consider the situation you’re in and accept the worst that can happen. Once you’ve accepted the worst then you can begin to try to improve upon the worst in a much more clear-headed fashion. 

If you’re a leader who lacks the courage to confront then consider the worst that could happen. You could completely screw it up. Perhaps someone’s feelings will be hurt, maybe they will like you less. They may talk about you behind your back. You may fail miserably.

Just an aside, not confronting a situation that demands confrontation virtually guarantees each of those outcomes eventually. 

When considering how to improve on the worst that can happen think about these ideas:

Don’t confront when you’re angry. Let the dust settle a little bit before confronting anyone, things said “in the moment” are impossible to unsay. As a rule don’t confront someone about an issue when you’re still mad about the issue. That said, we’re talking minutes or hours here to settle your emotions, not months or years. The longer you wait to confront someone the bigger your mountain of fear will become. Take a small amount of time to plan your confrontation but the key here is small amount of time. 

Practice what you want to say. Go off by yourself somewhere and actually say it out loud. I know that sounds kind of weird but it will help you feel better about approaching the other person. 

Don’t turn it into an argument. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Proving to someone that they are wrong will not help them correct the situation. Don’t get sucked into their argumentative tone and don’t turn the discussion into a point, counterpoint-point debate. Say what you need to say as often as you need to say it and then be quiet. Listen. Repeat your point as needed but do not be distracted by excuses and arguments that have no bearing on the issue or person being confronted.

Agree on the next steps. Any effective confrontation leads to a plan for resolution. Just telling someone about a problem is unlikely to solve the problem. Agree on what needs to happen for the issue or concern to be be resolved, or at least agree on some initial steps. 

Understand that this may not be a fun conversation, it may not be “clean.” You may not feel great about it when it’s over and it may not go exactly as you had planned. You might even have made things temporarily worse. 

But always know this: almost all big problems were once little problems. They became big problems because they were not confronted when they were small. You risk making a small problem bigger by confronting it, you guarantee it gets bigger by not confronting it.