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As a new manager I'm discovering that parts of my job don't mesh with my character. Like confrontations. My personality prefers to smooth the waters, so it irks me at times when I feel I must be confrontational to one of my directs in order to get things done. From denying a request for leave, or reminding someone to be punctual, to delivering a new work policy, or presenting a new product to the sales team (which product they don't much want to sell).

Mark and Mike often say we don't get paid to do what we like, we get paid to do our job. What I'm wondering is if confrontationalism is an unlikable but necessary part of the job of management, or if it's the case that I'm running into so many instances of confrontation simply because of my inexperience (perhaps I'm relying too heavily on role-power and should strive to be more inclusive?).

Any comments from those older and more experienced greatly appreciated.

thaGUma's picture

The fact you are having confrontations rather than giving adjusting feedback sounds like you need to work on O3’s to build relationships. Having to be decisive and sometimes against your direct’s wishes is part of your job. How that decisiveness is delivered is usually within your control and being confrontational is the lowest form.

I take individuals aside and explain that confrontational behaviour is unacceptable. I do not move onto the matter that caused the issue until that basic ground rule is accepted. Once accepted, I will be lenient if I can to show that while I found their behaviour unacceptable, I recognise the depth of their concerns.

Chris

jhack's picture

What do you mean by "confrontation?" What is said, in what tone of voice? Some folks treat any disagreement as confrontation. Others treat the work environment as a debating society, a constant clash of ideas. Some members of my team argue ideas with me...but it's not confrontational (because it's not personal.)

Thaguma is right: make sure you continue with O3's. Understand their motivations (revisit the DiSC podcasts.) Feedback should be no big deal, thanks.

Relying on role power day to day is like using a 2 by 4 to swat a fly. Save it for when you need it. Not sure what you mean by "Inclusive," but if you focus on goal setting (who does what by when) and let them decide how to get there (with your guidance depending on their level of professional development), that might help.

Focus on what they're doing, rather than concluding that it's "confrontation."

John Hack

HMac's picture

"....From denying a request for leave, or reminding someone to be punctual, to delivering a new work policy, or presenting a new product to the sales team (which product they don't much want to sell)..."

I'm asking you to rethink a bit, and to challenge your characterization of these as CONFRONTATIONS by definition.

They're not. They're instances where you need to PERSUADE others to a different point of view, or at least to understand the organization's point of view.

Look at them as *communication challenges* not as confrontations.

-Hugh

tlhausmann's picture

If you are uncomfortable saying "No" without a conversation becoming a confrontation then you have some work to do.

You are responsible for team performance AND responsible for building a relationship with each person on your team. They are not all alike. Continue doing O3's...to the extent possible encourage effective behavior through positive feedback.

Personnel issues, by far, create the greatest pain in management. Building a relationship with everyone on your team helps prevent minor discussions from becoming train wrecks.

Two resources you may find helpful include: "Crucial Conversations" by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, & Switzler also "First, Break All the Rules" by Buckingham and Coffman

RobRedmond's picture

Conflict is inherent in management. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you will find yourself in conflict with others. Conflict increases as resources become more scarce. Monday, raises, the next promotion, jobs, supplies, employees - whatever the resource, as it becomes more difficult to obtain and more limited, the more political game playing and conflict in which you will become embroiled.

You have two simple choices:

* Manage the conflict as best you can and accept that increasing amounts come with increasing status in a company

* Choose to stay or descend to a lower altitude to stay below the fighting.

If you must be loved by everyone all the time, you will be very unhappy as a leader. You cannot please all of the people all of the time. For example, no matter how many times you warn everyone to have all vacation submitted by the end of the month, someone will ask for vacation the following month by surprise and will have a temper tantrum when you deny it.

-Rob

littlejus's picture

Thanks to all of you for your valuable time, all of which served up food for thought.

thaGUma's "Having to be decisive and sometimes against your direct’s wishes is part of your job" is the honest truth.

In my case though TLHausmann comes even closer with the comment, "If you are uncomfortable saying No without a conversation becoming a confrontation then you have some work to do." It's not that the conversation becomes a confrontation. But when saying no to someone there is a natural confrontation. Call it conflict rather, if you will.

The No answer is always going to hurt. It's what the person doesn't want to hear. And there are ways to deliver the No message in a way that it'll be felt as a small prick. Then again, it's possible to trip up on your way to giving the message (over your own tongue, for instance) and seriously wound your colleague (or at least hurt their pride).

Can you really Just Say No, or does the thinking man deliver the No message in a way that takes away the sting?

Communication is so much about the little things. (Like in the feedback model, always beginning with that first question, "Can I give you some feedback".) I wonder if Messrs Horstman and Auzenne would consider doing a cast on "How to say no."

TLHausmann, thanks also for the book recommendations. I checked them out on Amazon and will definitely pick them up the next time I'm at my local bookstore. Not only do they look like useful resources, they seem like nice reads too!

littlejus's picture

Conflict is inherent in management. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you will find yourself in conflict with others. ... You cannot please all of the people all of the time.
No matter how many times you warn everyone...someone will ask for vacation the following month by surprise and will have a temper tantrum when you deny it.

Nicely put. It's reassuring to hear that this is the experience. Thanks!

rgbiv99's picture

I think a lot of times we don't give people enough credit for what they can handle. When I struggle with giving someone feedback or saying no to them, I try to think about how I would feel if I were receiving the information and the answer is almost always the same: Fine. It's work. It's not personal. When someone says no to my ideas, do I completely collapse? Of course not. Nor do I think that the person saying no is "mean." It's just work.

I think this is a false question:
Can you really Just Say No, or does the thinking man deliver the No message in a way that takes away the sting?

Of course using the DiSC model and communicating in a way that suits the receiver is best; I'm not advocating barreling in and being abrasive, but I think you're putting too much emphasis on "sting." Is there really a sting for the receiver or is the issue your own fear of confrontation?

RobRedmond's picture

Negative feedbacks stings every time and that's why it works (used sparingly).

You can prevent negative feedback from being downright mean. Comment on behavior, keep the observation factual, contain the consequences you express, and smile when you say it in a low soft voice. Keep it private. Stick to the model. It's going to sting, though.

It's also going to sting the manager. It's like dragging your socks on a carpet in Winter. When you shock them, you will be shocked as well. Managers know this and do it anyway knowing they will be zapped as well. In fact, for the manager it is worse. The manager must endure the anxiety before the feedback is given and worry about how to do it. The employee just experiences the feedback and then it is over.

-Rob Redmond
http://www.strugglingmanager.com

jchase's picture

Great comments, all...

Can't say I am "older and more experienced" but here is my 2 cents... :)

I really identify with this situation. I was extremely bad at "confontation," conflict, boundaries, etc when I was an individual contributor. I have a performer-personality, and want to do the "best" that I can in any situation, which sometimes was very grey when I needed black and white.

My limited advice is that I got used to the emotional side of things as I grew more confident in my role. I don't mean using role power, rather, I realized that I could actually influence others in ways that I was not aware of previously. As others have stated, I think it really stems from where you think your persuasion is coming from on a core level. I believed my persuasion was from role power, which made all conversations about expectations, performance, etc, centered on the least effective point of leverage. When I started believing in my ability to shape the person's understanding or help them be more effective without saying "because I am the boss" I grew FAR more comfortable with the situations.

I do have to admit that I have only been managing for about 5 years, and only in one company, so I can't tell you if this is typical for others.

John's 2X4 example is dead-on. Save the "do it if you want to keep working here" for very rare occasions. An employee working in fear of being fired will work just hard enough to not get fired.

littlejus's picture

Jchase: I realized that I could actually influence others in ways that I was not aware of previously

Would be interested to hear more specifics about this...? What ways? How did you become aware?

jchase's picture

I think a good place to start is the How to be Persuasive cast here on the M-T site. I only wish I had know of it when I came into management. I had to figure it out on my own, and MAN DID I SCREW UP!

First big lesson -

I had to gain confidence in my own rationale and learn to communicate that effectively. Some of the more difficult discussions became easy when I started communicating my rationale for the decision as well as my desire to balance the needs of the company and the individuals. As an example, the first time I denied a vacation request, I simply said no. Following that, I tried explaining my rationale and communicated a policy that made the situation easier for everyone to understand. I explained that the needs of the business were such that a minimum level of coverage for labor was needed to ensure we could respond to the customers rapidly, and I based the discussion in examples that reinforced the point. I made a policy that, barring emergencies, vacation was first-come-first-served and that no more than 2 members of the team could be on vacation at the same time. I then created a way for the team to see who had vacation scheduled and notified everyone of others' vacation requests. This took the main burden off me, explained the needs of the business, and made it reasonable and fair to the team. Plus, it changed the focus from request/deny to business needs and customer response.

Second big lesson - Expectations and Clarifications

The more I learned in my new role, the better I became at clarifying situations and publicizing expectations. I found through several tough conversations that my clarity and communication of expectations was key in everyone's success. This seems like a no-brainer, but there are a lot of situations where my expectations clashed with the common practice of the larger team or the prior manager. One example was during a meeting where one of my direct reports insulted another. The old manager was fine with this, but I wasn't, and had to set expectations that everyone on the team be committed to improving the team and each other, thus behavior to the contrary could not be tolerated. Again, when I communicated it I based the policy in examples and explained my rationale. Result - Morale improved, team became more cohesive, no more insults!

On the personal side, I found it a little ironic (and a massive personal challenge) that I took something I was extremely weak at - confrontation - and made it a central focus of my life by moving into management. I would credit it with some of the best growth in my life, both personally and professionally. Hopefully you will see it the same way!

littlejus's picture

JChase, thanks again for taking the time to share your insight. From your examples I can understand a lot more about the process that I must go through to be more effective in these kinds of conversations. Recently I've come to appreciate that what I assume, other people don't even give a second thought. Because it's an underlying assumption to me, explaining my rationale has been something that I haven't done, feeling that it's stating the obvious. But your point rings true, that I must explain more of my thoughts, as I can't expect others to have the same point of view.

I must say, I am enjoying the challenge and can well believe that it's the best growth in one's life! Thanks for the encouragement!

jhack's picture

M&M's podcast on "Change Briefings" from Dec 29, 2008, covers this challenge.

It's not about explaining your rationale or assumptions.

Your goal is to explain how [fill in the blank] addresses the interests of the person to whom you're talking.

Highly recommended for the readers of this thread.

John Hack

littlejus's picture

Hi Jhack,

That podcast was really useful. I started trying to present new information as a "how will this make things better for you" message, and already I've found things running far more smoothly. Thanks for the pointer!

Cheers,
littlejus