6 Compelling Reasons To Encourage Confrontation

By Rick Houcek

Let’s talk today about everybody’s most hated subject:  confrontation.

I have no scientific statistics on this, but by my own personal observation, having worked with close to 300 high-power strategy teams and thousands of CEOs and senior executives – ‘confronting’ is one of most leaders’ least favorite things to do.

So if you too get a queasy feeling in your stomach – and you’d rather have root canal than a confrontational discussion or meeting – either one-to-one or with a group – it doesn’t make you a bad person.  And you’re in a pretty big club.

But if you are in a leadership position, it is something you need to get a handle on and fix… or you compromise your ability to lead effectively.

So, let’s talk about it.  Why should you encourage and invite confrontation in your workplace?

Well, I’m going to give you 6 compelling reasons why.

First, let’s define it.

Confrontation is merely what happens when two or more people view an issue differently.  That’s all – nothing more.  It does not have to be an angry, or ugly, or disrespectful conversation.  In fact, I would require the discussion to be exactly the opposite:  always dignified, civil and respectful.  Armed with that, why should you invite confrontation?  Well, here they are – 6 benefits.

  1. You’ll get more ideas and greater options. The fact is, disagreeing brings about alternate approaches and opens our eyes to new ways, maybe even better ways.  We stop being so myopic and one dimensional.  So if you are looking for more ideas and more options, invite confrontation – they’ll surface.
  2. You will get true buy-in, not fake or pretend buy-in. Nothing is worse to me than phony nodding heads.  That is what’s called ‘Group Think.’  When one dominate person throws out an idea, everybody shuts up although people might silently disagree, no one verbally disagrees and they all just go along like lemmings walking off a cliff.

    Alfred Sloan used to be the Chairman of General Motors many, many years ago and he had a practice on his Board of Directors which was fascinating to me.

    If a vote of his Board passed unanimously on the first vote, he wouldn’t accept it.  His rationale was that you can’t put a dozen smart people in a room and everybody agrees at the first go around.  Somebody disagrees and is just not speaking up.

    So his solution to it was he would table the discussion until the next meeting, until he said, “Someone have the courage to disagree so we get broader thought.”  I think that’s brilliant tactic that you might choose to employ with your team.

  3. Confrontation pulls involvement in from many people, not just one or two. This is how brainstorming and think tanks work.  The whole purpose of brainstorming is to generate many ideas and then flush out the ones that have less value and land on the ones that have the greatest value.

    It has to take people who have no passion to own their idea, but just a passion to arrive at the best idea.

  4. Confrontation stifles the dominant person. If you study team dynamics, what you will find most often in a group of people is there is one person who is the more dominant force; does most of the talking; occupies most of the airtime, and essentially puts a damper on open dialogue.  Many people shut up and just agree and go along.

    Well, if you invite confrontation it disallows one person from dominating the conversation; brings out more thoughts, and the dominate person becomes less so.  That’s a very good thing.

  5. In the end – because of these 4 above – you’ll make a better, final decision. It will be more fully formed.  It will be more fully vetted and more fully shaped.  Who doesn’t want better decisions?
  6. And this may be the best of all, you will have better implementation because of the true buy-in. Lousy implementation kills more goals, more strategies, and more big ideas than any other single factor.

    So, if you want better implementation, invite confrontation to get more ideas and better options to get true buy-in, to pull in involvement from many people – not just one or two – to stifle the dominate person, and to make better decisions.

Well, there you have it.  Six compelling reasons why encouraging confrontation is smart for you as a leader.


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