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The Art of Skillful Confrontation

When Ignoring is Not an Option

A bit surprised this morning to find a slip of paper under my windshield wiper this morning as I left my morning coffee/”think” time, but there it was – all 2”x 8” in its glory. When the paper didn’t blow away with the swoosh of my wipers, I figured I should probably retrieve it. Good thing I did . . . it seems a note was directed to me by an individual who wasn’t impressed with my parking. S/he said so and noted that I had “inconvenienced” him/her. The writer, further, invited me to come into McDonalds to “discuss” the matter further if I wished.

Two problems: (1) I was leaving McDs, not arriving, and who wants to go back inside—certainly not I. (2) As is so often the case with this type of communication, the writer didn’t sign it. Someone, obviously, was bothered enough by my parking style that s/he thought it was necessary to let me know, but having hid under the cloak of “anonymity,” s/he missed an opportunity to nudge me to change my parking style.

This little event got me to thinking how we occasionally do similarly in leadership. We recognize a behavior that needs changed (but) fail to confront it directly.
I remember a day long past when I had to confront a female employee about a highly offensive odor she had about her. Had I sent an anonymous note (certainly much easier for me), everyone in the office would immediately have become a suspect (and no doubt would have caused her great grief thereafter). Likely she would have corrected the problem . . . but the cost to her would have been unacceptably high . . . and cruel!
I talked to her directly late one Friday afternoon. Short . . . to the point . . . and I told her what needed to change. I also asked if she understood clearly what I was saying. She did. The whole conversation lasted not more than 3 minutes.
An ugly, ugly task but it needed to be done and the lot fell on me to do it. To this employee’s great credit, however, she cleaned up and we NEVER faced that issue again. I can’t say with certainty that I handled that situation ideally but I can say that direct confrontation was the indispensable ingredient to resolving successfully.
Eugene Habecker perhaps said it best. “Confrontation is one of the least glamorous, most difficult parts of leadership. It is, however, one of its most necessary and important responsibilities.”
Worth thinking about it.
Two Notes:
1. My parking? Rather than pulling into my 45 degree slip at a true 45 degree angle,
I parked at about a 50 degree angle—tho still fully within my parking area. Yup! A real sin!
2. The employee’s female supervisor was not able to talk to her direct report about the problem and begged me to do it for her. She was present for the conversation.
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