Command Issue December 2017


By Mark Field

Peers, subordinates, and students have related to me that one of their more challenging tasks is to confront those that they lead about substandard performance, misconduct, disciplinary issues, and unacceptable interpersonal skills – just to name a few.
After brief conversations, I learned the primary reason was they were ill-equipped to act productively and resourcefully when confronted with such circumstances. Consequently, many avoided confrontations altogether.

A leader’s adversity to conflict and confrontation can lead to disastrous consequences when they dismiss negative behaviors, ignore behaviors even exist, or hope the behavior or conduct will resolve itself – just to name a few.

Some leaders understand that if they let their people run amuck doing whatever they please, whenever they please – without boundaries – will create even greater problems than the original problem. Others are totally devoid of potentially negative consequences that will inevitably result in negative outcomes for them and their organization.

Cloud and Townsend lead the reader through practical approaches for positive confrontation and present a convincing argument that successful leaders people “confront well.” They know that setting healthy boundaries ultimately improves relationships thereby building a leader’s trust and respect based on their honesty and transparency. They have discovered that uncomfortable – even dangerous – situations can often be avoided or resolved through direct conversation.

Most leaders do not know how to go about having difficult conversations. They see confrontation as intimidating or adversarial. They are anxious to talk with an employee about a drinking problem or even address a relational conflict the employee may have with another peer.

Cloud and Townsend apply their principles to a variety of the most common difficult situations and relationships by:

  • Explaining why confrontation is essential to all of life’s arenas.
  • Showing how healthy confrontation can improve relationships.
  • Presenting essentials of a good boundary-setting conversation.
  • Providing tips on how to prepare for a conversation.
  • Showing how to tell people what you want, how to stop bad behavior, and how to deal with counterattacks.
  • Giving actual examples of conversations to have with your boss, co-workers, and subordinates, and more. 

From the Book: “Sometimes leaders become confused in a confrontation because the employee either leads them into an emotional trap or succeeds in getting them off track.

If that happens, remember this formula. Empathize with their feelings or position, and return to your issue.

Here’s an example. Joe: ‘I can’t believe you were offended by my comments. You joke around more than anyone here. That’s pretty hypocritical.’
You: ‘I understand it’s hard for you to see, and I’m glad you meant it as a joke and weren’t trying to be hurtful. What I’m telling you, though, and what I don’t want you to miss, is how it affected me. It hurt me and I don’t want to be talked to like that.'"

“A boundary is a definite place where your responsibility ends and another person’s begins. It stops you from doing things for others that they should do for themselves.”