Breaking Free – May 2015 – High Cost of Avoiding Confrontation)


High Cost of Avoiding Confrontation


Conflict Resolution Customer Service
Communication Self-Development / Growth
Change Management Leadership
Critical Thinking Risk Management

What do all of these hot leadership topics have in common?


Often I talk to folks in my workshops and they tell me that they HATE confrontation. That led me take a look at what confrontation really IS and what that word really means.

Confront [kuh n-fruhnt]

  • to present for acknowledgment, contradiction, etc.; set face to face
  • to stand or come in front of; stand or meet facing
  • to bring together for examination or comparison
  • to face in hostility or defiance; oppose

The root of the word comes from frons meaing forehead. It originates from Latin word com– meaning “together” + frontem (nominative frons) meaning “forehead.” So confront literally means come together forehead to forehead. The Medieval Latin confrontārī means to stand face to face with. That’s it. No combat or hostility needed… just face it.

I believe that the stories we tell ourselves about this word are much more frightening to us than the actual act of confronting. So, let’s rewrite our stories. We all have the ability and capacity to do that.

The Costs of Not Confronting

A common myth quoted from the February 2014 Wall Street Journal article: “Executives who avoid workplace conflicts get ahead. [The truth is] their advancement stalls.”

A Senior VP at a large health care company lost a key promotion because he never argued with or confronted those who disagreed. According to Judith Glaser, it’s not that firms want contentious leaders but those who retreat from confrontation tend to postpone hard decisions and allow problems to fester.

The stories we tell ourselves about confrontation are often passed down from well-intentioned folks.

“I was raised to be polite. It’s rude to disagree.”
“People will blow up if they are confronted.”
“You can’t talk about certain things or you’ll offend people.”
“If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

What are the results of these stories? You probably see some of the results in your work teams, in your families, in your community organizations, etc.

Studies show that 95% of a company’s workforce struggles to speak up to their colleagues about their concerns. They engage in resource-sapping avoidance tactics which may look like:

  • avoiding people
  • withholding useful informaiton
  • excessive ruminating
  • complaining
  • getting angry
  • criticizing
  • doing unnecessary work
  • back-stabbing

These avoidance tactics are coping mechanisms which create the illusion of safety. We believe if we avoid it long enough, it will go away. What we fail to realize is that this isn’t just costing the world “out there.” We are paying the price “in here.”

Are you experiencing a lack of joy or freedom or satisfaction?

Have you been telling yourself that you are going to do something and continue to put it off?

Are there areas of incongruence within your life that you are not confronting?

What is the cost?

  • lower self-esteem
  • lack of passion & joy
  • deprecating self-talk
  • tired / low motivation
  • disengagement
  • indifference
  • disillusion
  • resignation
  • discouragement

Confronting is all about your willingness to perceive!

Confronting is a key if not THE key leadership competency. Communication doesn’t happen without confrontation…coming together forehead to forehead.

5 Initial Steps to Confronting

  1. Lay aside your judgment and fears. (You can pick them up later if you need to do so.)
  2. Face the entity, experience, or expectations.
  3. Observe… just sit back and watch. Detach from the situation.
  4. Identify the facts… and not just the facts that agree with your stories, but all of the facts that you can identify. Yes, even the ones that don’t currently make sense.
  5. Well… Confront. Face it.

Note to planners & perfectionists:
You are never totally prepared for confrontation. You can’t possibly be completely equipped for confrontation. Confrontation is growth! Growth is something that makes you feel unprepared and uncertain.

If it were comfortable and easy, it wouldn’t be growth. It would be normal and usual. It would be who you already are.

There is never a “perfect” time… never a time when you are totally equipped for confrontation because it would not stretch you and there would be no growth.

What you can be sure of is that it will be worth it! Regardless of the outcome, you will have grown your courage, your integrity, and your perspectives.

Know that more value will be created by confronting the problem, challenge or issue “head on” or face-to-face rather than ignoring it and letting it fester inside of you.


“The success of love is in the loving – it is not in the result of loving. Of course it is natural in love to want the best for the other person, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done.”

– Mother Theresa

I believe you will find the same to be true for confronting.

“The success of confronting is in the confronting – it is not in the result of confronting. Of course it is natural in confronting to want the best, but whether it turns out that way or not does not determine the value of what we have done.”

Take steps today to confront something that has been bothering you. Remember, you don’t have to resolve the issue for it to add value to you and the world. You are worth it!

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