How to Handle Confrontation, Part 2 - Page 2

Jun 9, 2005

Joe Santana

Remember your goal is not to attack or trick them. You don't want to make them feel defensive by opening with a statements like, "You made me very angry when you sent out that accusatory email to 10 people in the company without first checking your facts."

Always avoid opening any confrontation in this manner, with your judgments. On the other hand, you don't want to come across as weak, patronizing or plain silly either by saying something like, "I really like you and your team. So why did you send out the stupid, hateful email? Nice office!" This so called "sandwich conversation" fools no one.

5. Be Sure to Listen

Next, listen and be flexible. The next few words that come out of the other person's mouth may raise another more important issue that needs to be addressed or provide insight into why the other person did what they did and/or any combination of results. At this point, the most valuable thing that you can do is to listen carefully, adjust if needed and keep the discussion focused on getting to the facts in a non-judgmental way.

For example, the business-unit leader might tell you that two of the people copied on the email are holding her personally responsible for the outcome of this project. She wanted them to know that even though you were not involved personally day to day, that you were in fact responsible for the project.

At this point, you might reply, "So, let me see if I understand you. You want these two people to know that I am responsible for the project as the head of IT. You choose to send out an email copied to 10 people stating that you thought the project would fail due to my lack of personal participation in the process in order to convey that I am responsible for the project to these two people. Why did you believe that it was necessary to convey that I was letting the project fail in order to establish that I am responsible for the project?"

Based on the next response, you can continue to drill down into how to get to the root of the issue and address it.

6. Seek Positive Action to Resolve Conflict

Finally, make sure you close the confrontation in a manner that motivates a positive commitment to action. In order to motivate yourself or someone else to act, you need to lower the pain associated with the action and increase the pleasure.

In the case of our example, the final action might be to jointly meet with the two senior executives to discuss your role and ownership versus the role and ownership of the business-unit leader. Also, another action might be a note from the business-unit leader to the original 10 people that summarizes your discussion, agreements and partnership (not quite a big apology, but certainly a show of willingness to work together as a team).

A few things that will lower the pain of taking the right actions are having a clear idea of what you will discuss with the two senior executives and having a clear position to communicate in the note. (You may, for example, volunteer to draft the message for the note.) Factors that increase the reward or pleasure for taking these actions include knowing that you are both building allies and increasing the chance for a successful project for which both of you can receive credit. Make sure you clearly build and communicate these so that there is commitment to the actions decided upon during the confrontation.

Summary and Conclusion

There are clear rewards to the CIO for effectively managing internal IT and IT-to-business conflicts. As Joseph Grenny, one of the co-authors of "Crucial Confrontations," states, "Effective IT leaders realize their role is more culture change than technology change. This is why those who are most capable of stepping up to challenging interpersonal situations succeed the best. Improve your crucial confrontations skills, and your IT leadership will take the next step forward."

Nevertheless, even with excellent techniques, handling conflicts still present moments of discomfort. To that end, if you have not effectively handled conflicts in the past (ran away or exploded in anger), I recommend that you start small and work your way up to bigger confrontations. As you face bigger and more uncomfortable confrontations, I advise you to take heart from the words of Thomas Paine, the American patriot and political philosopher, who once said, "The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

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