Why Difficult Conversations Are Critical

“I’ll tell you when I am confrontational. It is with my kids,” Steve said. He has been a close friend for over 25 years, and I recently dropped in for a weekend visit.

During this visit, we were discussing how I am confrontational and he isn’t. As we spent the next couple of days together, I would point out to him when he should have been confrontational. He pointed out to me when I shouldn’t have been.

Confronting Differences

After a while he got a little fed up with our discussion and made the comment about confronting his children.

He said, “I confront people when it is really important to me. I am not afraid of confrontation but practice it sparingly. I don’t confront people simply because something bothers me about them or the way they are treating me. But my kids, well that’s different.”

I talked to another friend, Gregg, about confrontation. I told him what I learned from my visit with Steve. He said, “I disagree. We confront people when the issue is more troublesome than the perceived downside to the confrontation. Emotion usually lessens the perception of risk.”

So Gregg confronts when there is no relationship risk, and Steve confronts people when he cares deeply about the relationship. I have been thinking about the when and why of confrontations for a couple of weeks. I believe there are three reasons I confront people.

When I Care but There Isn’t Relationship Risk

Steve values family and loves his adult children and wants the best for them. He does not hesitate to confront them on what he sees as harmful behavior. His concern is for their future and the future of their family. He is all in.

I deal with entrepreneurs all the time—those I am advising in the community and those in whom I am invested. As I reflected on my confrontations with entrepreneurs, I realized my confrontations are generally focused on sustainability.

Sustainability is one of my core values in life and business. I believe we must build a business which makes money. Simple as that. I often say, “I never saw a business fail which had consistent positive cash flow.”

When I Do Not Care and There Isn’t Relationship Risk

Steve and I walked into a busy restaurant and asked the hostess for a table for two. She said there were no tables available, but we could sit at the bar to eat.

When we got to the bar, Steve said, “Did you see the tables at the entrance which were available?”

I said, “Yes, I did. Why didn’t you say something to her?”

He said, “It wasn’t that important to me.”

On the way out, I couldn’t help myself when I saw those same tables vacant after being there for an hour. I asked the hostess, “Why didn’t you give us one of those tables instead of making us eat dinner at the bar?”

When I Care (Too Much) and There Is Relationship Risk

These are confrontations which can easily end in never talking again, a person being fired or the breakup of a partnership. These confrontations should not happen without a lot of prior prayer and preparation. The stakes are too high to just walk in and confront.

If you know there is relationship risk, then you have already decided the person you will confront will argue vigorously. The stakes are high because heels are dug in. These confrontations are usually delayed, and this creates tension and stress for the confronting party.

I once confronted a national sales manager on the channels he decided to deploy as we missed our numbers by a mile. It appeared to me he was not very thorough on his selection and management of his channel partners. So I asked, “What would you do differently if you could start from scratch?”

I thought this would lead to a valuable discussion on what he learned from missing his numbers.

He said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I think we have great partners.”

I couldn’t believe it. He missed his numbers, and he was telling me he learned nothing. I believed I had no choice but to end our relationship.

Confront Before Resentment Destroys

Confrontations are about building relationships, challenging the terms of a relationship or relieving stress. Confrontations are necessary in order to build deeper and more meaningful relationships in your life.

Hold on to what’s bothering you for too long and your relationships will suffer. Over time resentments show up, and when you finally have the confrontation, the relationship gets destroyed!

Know where you are: care, don’t care or care too much. Every stage has its strategy.

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One thought on “Why Difficult Conversations Are Critical

  1. A ‘rule of thumb’ about confrontation I learned from my daughter-in-law. “When you find yourself rehearsing the conversation you’d like to have with someone, you should have it”. When I find myself going over and over something someone said or did, I force myself to go confront it with them. It’s risky and sometimes painfully humbling, but I have healthier relationships because I’ve done it.