You Can’t Do It That Way!

women staring at each other

I found myself in a new leadership position. The ball was rolling downhill—rapidly—and I was trying to catch up! I had a good idea and posed it to my secretary, who responded, “You can’t do it that way!” Well, her statement raised a red flag as I sought a solution to a problem with an upcoming major event. Was this the time to confront her? Should I not say anything and let her attitude go? If I decided to confront her, how should I do it?

Confrontation can impact our effectiveness as leaders, so let’s look at some truths and myths regarding this sensitive topic.

  1. Confrontation always results in trouble—Myth. Many times, we as leaders are relieved when confrontations are avoided, but in truth, they can produce positive changes in our groups and organizations. Our challenge is to face change with optimism even when confrontation is involved.
  2. Confronting others immediately is the best course of action—Myth. An effective leader needs to have all the facts before taking action. Confronting others without full information is folly! Responding immediately can cause hard feelings, confusion, and embarrassment if it’s simply a misunderstanding.
  3. It is sometimes wise to not confront at all—Truth. Whether you are a new leader or an experienced one, there is value in choosing your battles. If someone’s personality is simply abrasive, pass on confronting him or her! That is, of course, unless that person is destroying your group’s unity or hurting others. If the situation is not germane to your purpose, perhaps it is wiser to focus on the more important aspects of the group’s tasks.
  4. A public confrontation gets everything out in the open and settles things once and for all—Myth. It is a rare occasion when you as a leader should confront another in a public setting. And don’t think for a minute that everything will be settled by your action! Discussions where attitudes or actions are addressed should be calm, private conversations. Leaders who extend courtesy to others’ feelings are more respected.
  5. There is an art to positive confrontation—Truth. All the previous scenarios point to developing skill in determining how to confront others when the situation warrants an intervention. As leaders, we must model good communication skills when confronting an individual. Our words must be chosen carefully, and our demeanor should be calm and collected. Appearing aggressive or tentative undermines the authority you have to confront others and their actions.        

So does it matter how we as leaders confront issues and people? Do our actions and words model strong, stable leadership techniques? We must go into each situation armed with optimism, information, wisdom, respect, and skill. Simply telling someone, “You can’t do it that way!” does nothing to correct misunderstandings, soothe hurt feelings, or remove harmful conflict. Confrontation is not to be taken lightly!

Linda M. Clark is president, Indiana WMU. She is the author of 3 leadership books for women: Around the Table, 5 Leadership Essentials for Women, and Awaken the Leader in You.

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