I’ve always seen leadership from a twofold perspective. On one hand you are encouraging, cheering, loving, complementing and celebrating every step of the way. Yet in order to be an effective leader, you have to understand the other side of the coin. Leadership also requires coaching, challenging, redirecting and confronting. Both sides are challenging, but too often we perceive the first role of a leader as a good thing and the second as a necessary evil.

Confrontation has a negative connotation. I think we should change that. Confrontation is communication, and communication is leadership. We need to see every moment of confrontation as an opportunity for improvement. You can’t change what you refuse to confront.

Few of us have been taught how to effectively handle confrontation. There are not a lot of resources out there for how to confront an issue and get better from it. We tend to draw upon past experiences from our personal or professional lives. Many of those experiences offer unhealthy approaches to confrontation.

Instead of learning healthy confrontation we:

  • Become bitter
  • Gossip
  • Worry
  • Get offended
  • Feel alone

Ultimately, we avoid confrontation because we’re afraid:

  • People will become bitter
  • They might gossip
  • They will worry
  • They will be offended
  • They will feel alone

Confrontation defines and reinforces expectations. Most frustrations that we have with those we are leading are due to unmet expectations. Confrontation helps clarify what is expected, and gives the other person a clear path to succeed in meeting those expectations—or even better, surpassing them!

So what does healthy confrontation look like?

1. Confrontation is the Result of Healthy Evaluation

When building a culture that places a high value on improvement, it’s crucial to stop regularly and evaluate constantly.

Evaluation is confrontation done well. Criticism is evaluation’s impostor. There is a fine line between healthy evaluation and egotistical criticism. The simple difference is that evaluation jumps into the problem with you and seeks to find a solution together, while criticism offers an opinion without seeking resolution.

Evaluation is based not on feelings but on standards. When expectations are clear, evaluation is easy.

We’re not too big to ask for help and we’re never too busy to be of help. Healthy evaluation requires a team. Anything left to itself won’t grow. We need others around to help push us forward.

2. Confrontation Doesn’t Require Negative Emotion

Many of us have to hit a boiling point before we will confront someone. Someone is offended. Tension escalates. Tempers flare. But healthy confrontation is conversation. We have to be hard on the issues but soft on the person. When walking into a confrontational situation we should always:

Be Clear

Affirm your commitment to the relationship and introduce what needs to be said with care and respect. Be direct and get to the issue. What’s really bothering you? How can I help?

Be Prepared

Know what needs to be said. Consider the opposing perspective. Choose your words carefully. Understand that you are fifty percent of all interactions.

Let Them Respond

We hear things, but are we listening? Respect people’s opinions. Ask questions. Don’t hit and run. If you don’t have time to listen, don’t initiate a confrontation.

Find a Solution

If there’s no solution or vision to work towards, it’s a complaint. Lean in and partner together to figure out a solution that’s ultimately an improvement that serves the mission, not individual self-interests.

3. Confrontation Has an Expiration

It’s important to handle issues as they arise. Letting frustrations fester can blow way out of proportion what initially upset us. By letting things marinate, we’re leaving space for unhealthy thoughts and emotions to creep in.

Confrontation loses relevance over time. Don’t wait months, weeks, or even days to confront something that is bothering you now. Relationships suffer when we throw the past at one another. Deal with it while it’s still relevant.

Confrontation is not a necessary evil, it’s a healthy and essential part of effective leadership. Let’s change confrontation’s connotation so we can lead better and achieve more together.

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