“Don’t make a fuss.”
“You’re so bossy.”
Ever heard any of these? Uh, yeah. Me, too.
Our culture has pushed several limiting beliefs about confrontation—and mostly to women.
The message—well, the lie really—is confrontation is mean, aggressive, and not nice. That lie has turned into quite the monster in our culture. Sharon Hodde Miller, in her book Nice, records Dr. Christina Edmonson saying, “We are wooed by superficial niceness.”
Superficial niceness limits our growth and hurts our relationships, at best. When superficial niceness becomes an ideal to uphold, the ultimate cultural value, then conflict comes out sideways. Life starts to resemble Mean Girls, and we all feel trapped or hit by a bus.
What are we supposed to do about that? The answer is caring confrontation.
Confrontation’s Latin roots are “with” and “the face.” To confront someone demonstrates respect by coming to be with them to face a problem head-on. Caring confrontation is coming alongside, looking someone in the eye, and saying, “Let’s face this problem together.”
Caring confrontation is coming alongside, looking someone in the eye, and saying, “Let’s face this problem together.”
Caring confrontation walks in with bravery and vulnerability. Clarity and concern. Steady and warm.
Caring confrontation is facing someone, not getting in their face. Caring confrontation is for the leader in the corner office. Caring confrontation is for the colleague whose desk is in the steam pipe trunk distribution venue (the basement for you non-West Wing fans). Caring confrontation is vital to all relationships, personal and professional.
Three positive results from caring confrontation.
Caring confrontation opens the opportunity to grow and change.
If no one ever told you cutting your toenails on a plane is disrespectful to other passengers, how could you change your behavior? (And if no one has, I AM telling you. Just no.) Caring confrontation raises a concern and offers the opportunity to grow, change, and improve. In leadership, we often call this providing feedback or addressing issues, and those are forms of confrontation.
Caring confrontation deals with the past in the present to preserve a better future. (Yes, you may have to read that again!)
Caring confrontation establishes boundaries and clarifies expectations.
I pretty much hate laundry. To avoid laundry as much as I can, I outsource it. To my children. Ok, part of it so they learn to be responsible adults, so there’s a win-win! For most of the laundry, I have low expectations. Clean and put away. (If you want to roll your clothes in balls and walk around wrinkly, that’s all you, my love.)
In our house, we have a few corner closets with triangular shelves. Badly folded towels come falling out like a bad cartoon. To avoid the Mt. Vesuvius of linens, we have to fold the towels in a specific way. I have to get face-to-face with my family, not grumble around like a martyr, mumbling, “Why can’t they just get this right?” It is a kindness to clarify my expectations and requests.
Caring confrontation establishes boundaries and clarifies expectations. Friends, this is ongoing! It’s not one-and-done!
Effective leaders consistently clarify their expectations.
Patrick Lencioni, organizational health expert, offers four steps to healthy cultures. Steps 2-4 are create clarity, overcommunicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.
Brené Brown puts it this way: “Clear is kind.”
So, if you find yourself saying, “Ugh. They should know this!” it’s probably time for a caring confrontation to clarify expectations.
Caring confrontation helps keep bitterness at bay.
There are two broad categories of dealing with an issue—internally and externally. In health, we always internally process through an issue. That’s recognizing our emotions and choosing a response toward resolution. Sometimes the resolution stays internal. You forgive and overlook the issue.
Many times, the healthiest response moves toward externally dealing with an issue. Caring confrontation is the external process of resolution. It’s seeing the problem as a broken object, facing a person to hold it up and saying, “I think this is broken. Can we fix this together?”
When we stop at the internal process when we should move on to external, resentment slides in like a troll in your DMs. And it brings its friend bitterness.
Bitterness hisses, “They should have just known. You deserve better. I can’t believe they behave that way.” Resentment builds a wall that becomes ever-more challenging to scale. Resentment and bitterness may feel comforting. You might even convince yourself it’s fair. But in truth, the stubbornness of not confronting only further divides—and hurts you.
Bitterness and resentment look like avoiding someone’s texts. Wanting to move to another department, even though you love your work. Gossiping. Snarky comments. Putting on a smile that doesn’t reach your eyes. It feels like discontentment, low-level annoyance, being trapped and pensive.
Caring confrontation blocks bitterness from gaining a foothold.
Yesterday at coffee with a friend, tears suddenly pricked my eyes. Soon they were trickling down my cheeks. In our conversation, I’ve realized there is a situation I thought had let go. The surprising tears show otherwise.
Now I have a choice: can I truly let go, or do I need to confront? Has bitterness has started a little taproot in my life? As resentment hidden behind the curtain, pulling the strings? These are the hard questions, the self-examination I need to consider.
Because the confrontation isn’t just for me. Caring confrontation is kind to you and others.
Caring confrontation is kind to you and others.
What do you think about confrontation? Is there someone you need to face?
Want to know your specific problem-solving style? Take this quiz!