Insights in Leadership

Fixing Leadership Issue #1: Fear of Confrontation

March 9, 2015


Fear of confrontation is at pandemic proportions among leaders and managers, and some supervisors will avoid it at all costs. It’s completely understandable though; who among us really wants to confront others? 


HR departments and senior leaders have designed a vast array of management tools in attempting to help leaders cope with this issue. But really, none of these can make up for a leader who is intimidated by someone they are supposed to be leading. And the effects are far-reaching as others know that the leader is ineffective. Esprit-de-corps therefore suffers.


Here is one path that has worked for me and others; maybe it will help you:

Consider a scenario in which you need to give performance feedback (constructive criticism) to a subordinate that intimidates you.


First, change your paradigm: Remember it’s not you vs. the other person; it’s them vs. their responsibility to the team. It’s not them doing what you say; it’s the higher purpose of them doing what’s right for the team.


Second, utilize your mentor: Discuss your fears with your mentor prior to offering feedback to the other person. 


This area of leadership skill development is one where having a strong mentor can change everything. If your mentor is not adept in these skills, you should seek out one who is. This may mean looking outside your workplace; and if necessary, a professional coach may be well worth the money spent.


Third, practice (role-play) what you’re going to say:  Practice with your mentor and let him or her coach you through handling likely negative responses. Hone down what you will actually say, and what you should avoid saying.


Stay with the classic feedback model: With one twist; start by asking for the other person’s self-assessment. If they reply with the same thing you were going to talk about, you’re done.  If they say it; they get it – agree and move on.


1. Ask for the other person’s self-assessment of their performance;

2. Be honest, frank, kind, and understanding;

3. Be specific, focus on behavior;

4. Give constructive suggestions;

5. Avoid overloading;

6. Invite response, listen properly.


Most importantly, remember: It’s not you vs. the other person; it’s them vs. their responsibility to the team. Again, it’s not them doing what you say; it’s the higher purpose of them doing what’s right for the team.


If you get into trouble:  Control the urge to react to the other person’s attempt to intimidate you; call a stop and get back with your mentor to work things out. Then re-approach the person and try again.


Tenacity is the key: Like any other skill, this particular skill requires tenacity and repetition for you to become effective. You may never get totally comfortable with confrontation, but in order to lead a team, you must at least be capable.


Hang in there and don’t give up. If dealing with confrontation is an issue for you, conquering it through leadership skill development will pay off in many ways, both for you and those you lead!



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