ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — September 2003

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BRIDGES: Internal Consultants for Change and High Performing Work Cultures
In A Nutshell
Proven Strategies on Service and Life
Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Respectful Confrontation for Superior Results

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Articles in Brief
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September 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

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Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Respectful Confrontation for Superior Results

“Without the courage to challenge others, we are idling through life.”
—Kathryn Smerek

The Quakers’ powerful motto, “Speaking Truth to Power,” means the willingness to challenge behavior that is off-purpose with core principles and values—even if the one you challenge has power over you. It is an action requiring courage. In fact, one of the critical acts of courage we must master to have efficacy and power in life is that of respectfully confronting situations and people.
As a therapist, executive coach, CEO of my own growing organization, father, and husband, I have discovered a fundamental law in this plane of reality: What you won’t confront today doesn’t just go away; it festers, grows, and comes back another day to hurt you. What you won’t face and handle today will come back later and with more pain. You get to choose. Will you learn to confront sooner or later (when it will cost you more)?

If you are to lead others successfully over time, you need to learn to manage and lead yourself. I have yet to meet an executive or a family member who said, “I only want mediocre or substandard results in my life and work.” Everyone is trying to create superior outcomes for themselves personally and professionally. That effort will fail dismally unless there is the ability to access the courage and skill to respectfully confront others.

What is respectful confrontation, and why is it one of the seven acts of courage? It takes courage to confront someone who can hurt us either through job action, rejection, counterattack, withdrawal, or a fractured relationship. We put ourselves “out there” when we confront someone. Yet, the confrontation needs to be done respectfully with consideration for the other person’s dignity and humanity. To confront without respect is to simply “dump” our thoughts and feelings on the other person. By telling our truth as we see it, but doing so in a respectful and considerate tone, we make it harder for the person to simply deny what we are saying, brush us off, counterattack, or withdraw in hurt or anger.

This powerful act of courage and the skills it requires to do it well are extremely powerful and effective because they are all too rare. Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cosmetics was a master of respectful confrontation, as was Sam Walton of Wal-Mart. They preserved the dignity of the other person or group even as they challenged and confronted them.

The process is simple. Take the time to write out what you want to say and the reason for saying it, as well as the desired outcome in terms of both results and developing the relationship. Before you deliver the confrontation, take the time to state the positive outcome or purpose for which you are aiming, creating a positive mindset for sharing. Then state the specific behavior that is a problem, keeping it short and simple. Tell them the effect of that behavior on the team, the organization, and the relationship. Ask them for their thoughts and reactions, and finish by creating a plan together on how to move forward. Later, follow up and follow through on the plan with them.
It is important to remember in this process to use a respectful and even compassionate tone of voice. The tone will outweigh the actual words and can make the difference between success and failure. Are you ready for superior results by confronting with respect? Or, will you wait for more pain later? The decision is yours!

ROBERT EARL (DUSTY) STAUB II is a nationally known author with two books in print and is the founder and CEO of Staub Leadership Consultants. He facilitates leadership development programs for individuals and organizations and is based in Greensboro, NC. E-mail your questions to questions@staubleadership.com or call 336-282-0282.

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