Friday, July 30, 2010

confronting with the truth

It may be the most difficult thing in the world to do - to look someone in the eye and confront them with the truth (or at least the truth as you perceive it to be at that moment). Over the past several days, I have come across several incidents (some directly related to me...others that I heard about through the grapevine) that I believed needed to be dealt with in a quick and truthful manner. The problem was that to do so would have put people in the awkward position of looking someone in the eye and confronting them with something they said or did. OUCH!

But here's the problem...if the person and their actions are not confronted, then it goes without saying that the action is permissible within the organization. If I decide that it is okay to trash a fellow worker openly and publicly, without any type of reprimand or acknowledgement that doing so is inapproriate, then others will believe that they too can engage in that type of behavior, and soon it becomes a part of the culture. Confronting people with the truth when they act outside the bounds of what is right and acceptable becomes a way to build a strong (positive) culture - and that is one of the roles of a leader. Not confronting the person with their action allows the culture to become weak (negative) and soon everyone believes that any type of action is not only allowable and tolerable, but becomes "the way we do things around here."

So just how can one become a master of confronting others with the truth so as to build a strong culture? Here are a few thoughts from someone (me) who has had to do this, but never likes to do so...
  1. Be careful...when you hear about the innaproriate behavior, ask yourself if the behavior is truly wrong for the organization, or if it is just something that pushes one of your own personal buttons.
  2. Be careful...ask a lot of questions of what you see and hear to be sure that the behavior really happened the way you saw and/or heard about it. It can be very damaging to confront someone with the truth when it is NOT the truth.
  3. Be careful...sometimes you may need to confront without knowing all the facts. I will begin those conversations with, "I heard/saw this and I need to know if it is the truth or not. If so, we need to have a discussion about it...if not, then I need that information to go back to the source and let them know they were wrong." It is always a good idea to believe the best rather than assume the worst when having to confront someone with the truth.
  4. Be careful...and couch your words in "organizational" terms. I try to point out how someone's actions and behavior hurts not only individuals, but also the organization. In a recent inscident where I confronted someone over a social media posting, I had the opportunity to talk about the responsibilities one has to the organization when choosing to use social media and other forms of communication.
  5. Be careful...check your own motives and feelings. Are you excited to do this? Is this going to be an "I gotcha" event for you? Are you relishing the moment you get to confront with the truth? If so, STOP and wait. This should be a very difficult conversation for you, because you are holding up a mirror to others of their own wrongdoing. A wise man once said to me that when firing someone becomes too easy (or too fun) it is time to get out of that position, because you have lost your ability to care for people.
  6. Be careful...but be BOLD. This is no time or place for the faint of heart. You cannot and should not shirk your repsonsibility to confront - that is the calling of the leader as "keeper of the culture." Go to that person, look them in the eye, and state why you are there. Be sure to practice beforehand what you plan to say, and then say it.
  7. Be careful...and be quiet. Once you have stated what you need to say, let the other person talk. They may have another side of the story you did not know...they may be so ashamed they do not know what to say...they may need the time to find words to ask for forgiveness...they may need time to collect their thoughts as to how to respond. Give them that time - and be gracious as you listen to their reponse.
  8. Be careful...and be willing to forgive. When the mirrior is held up to someone in which they see their action for what they really were, that is the the moment when they might confess their wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. At that point do NOT say, "that's okay" or "be sure it never happens again" or "don't worry about it." Say these powerful words - "I forgive you." And then stop. No need to follow up with "don't let it happen again," or "I'll be watching." Let them know of any consequences that may occur as a result of their behavior (memo in file, need to meet with another person to explain) but do not heep more fire on the situation with threats or demands.

I hope that most of us do not find ourselves in situations where these type of conversations have to take place on a regular basis. However, if the environment in whihc you find yourself today is a bit toxic, then I encourage you to start having these conversations - and watch what happens. After confronting a few people with the truth, it is my guess you will find yourself doing it less and less because you are building that culture in which people behave in a way consistent with the norms of the organization. And that makes for a healty (positive) workplace...or board...or church...or school...or even one's home.

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