To Confront or Not to Confront?

Would you rather confront or appease someone in a conflict situation? Do you prefer to fight for a cause and for what you believe is right or try your hardest to avoid a clash?

Depending on the decisions you make and the roles you choose to fill, you might be able to navigate through life with a minimum amount of conflict. However, if you plan to take on a significant level of leadership over projects and people, such as the role of Chief Financial Officer, you will quickly find that conflict is inevitable. Customer complaints will find their way into your office. You will have to negotiate over defective products from suppliers. You will spend large portions of your day handling conflict and drama among your team members and among others within and outside of your organization.

Business leadership expert and blogger Michael Hyatt says he used to prefer to stay out of conflict by keeping his opinions to himself and going along with the system: “This was a pretty good strategy for a while. But it didn’t really work once people were counting on me to lead.” Furthermore, Hyatt notes: “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to act in spite of my fear.” If you fear conflict because you want to maintain your personal comfort, you still have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone by acting for the good of your team and those who rely on your leadership.

John Maxwell advises leaders to keep two points in mind during confrontation:

  • Be honest and realistic – don’t try to deceive people into going along with your position, or you will lose credibility and damage relationships.
  • Be sincere – have the right motives, and truly try to help the other person you are confronting. The person you confront might not like what you tell them, but if they sense that you have the right heart behind your words, they are more likely to accept your confrontation.

Doug Van Dyke encourages leaders to confront problems in order to set the right tone for both the troublemakers and the team members who rely on you for leadership. As with the book on negotiation that I am reviewing, Van Dyke advises being tough on issues but soft on people. He also says to focus on controlling your own behavior while you influence others, be specific and detailed about the problems you are confronting, and build collaboration with people to solve problems.

Finally, since business relationships rapidly continue becoming more international, Erin Meyer shares tips to manage confrontation cross-culturally. For example, understand the distinct approaches toward conflict and negotiation among various cultures, and learn to work with a variety of people who are different from yourself. Prepare for your confrontations. Develop tactics for depersonalizing conflict and emphasizing the problems and solutions rather than the parties involved (again, separate the people from the problem). Set a proper tone by asking open-ended questions rather than making direct statements of disagreement.

Like it or not, confrontation is inevitable for finance professionals who wish to become key members of their organizations’ management teams. Set the right tone and have the courage to lead. Be honest and sincere when you confront others. Tackle problems rather than attacking people. Prepare for the different types of people you will confront, and be solutions-oriented the whole way through the conversation.