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Executive Leadership Podcast #192: The 10 Commandments of Confrontation

June 16, 2022
Executive Leadership Podcast #192: The 10 Commandments of Confrontation

Having a difficult conversation or confronting someone is not something to be avoided, it’s essential to great leadership. These 10 commandments of confrontation can help set the environment appropriately to ensure that the outcomes of these confrontations are positive.

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Perry Holley:    Welcome to the Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others, and increase your ability to fully engage your team, to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a Maxwell Leadership facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     I’m Chris Goede, executive vice president of Maxwell Leadership. Welcome, and thank you for joining. If you’d like to download today’s learner notes, or if you are interested in talking a little bit about the five levels of leadership, which is really the foundation, the methodology that we use in all organizations around the world, as we help them with the culture of their company, and their people, and their organization, please go to, and click on this lesson. In this lesson, you’ll see a form where you can submit that, and our team will receive that. We would love to hear from you.

Today, we’re going to talk about the 10 commandments of confrontation. I love this, this is something that we talked a little bit about in our last episode, and it’s something that we all need to continually talk about, and continually learn from. We actually have a training that we actually call Difficult Conversations, where we discuss John’s 10 commandments. We’ve all had those painful conversations, we all have those memories, where we’ve had a conversation with a family member, or a peer, maybe it’s even a leader, where this didn’t go the right way, and it was very awkward, the confrontation was.

We want to give you some tips that maybe re-correct that going forward, because, we don’t want to disappoint others. I think, at the root of us connecting with, and communicating, and confronting others, we don’t do it to disappoint or frustrate others. We really do it, hopefully, with proper intent. We’re going to go through and talk a little bit about the commandments that we have here to talk about, from confrontation side.

Perry Holley:    I was delivering this last week, so I was deep into this. I do notice, in almost every audience, there’s one that says, “I love confrontation. I live for it.” And then, I use that great Dr. Phil line, I said, “How’s that working for you?” Generally, if you’re really good at confrontation, you’ve got problems at the level two relationship side of things. Having a difficult conversation is something we, as leaders, need to step up to, you cannot let that linger. But, it’s not something to be avoided. It’s essential to great leadership. I believe these 10 commandments…John wrote this, and I just had not seen it recently. I pulled it out, and I go, “Some of these are going to be very common sense,” but, I thought a couple of them required…we could dig into them a little bit. Why don’t you start us off, and we’ll go quickly through these 10.

Chris Goede:     I love it. They are simple, they’re simply profound. I think, as you think about the context here, it will help you in some of the conversations that we need to be having, and having often.

The first one is, “Thou shalt confront others in private.” When I read this, I go, “That hasn’t always happened to me,” when I think about being confronted. We’ve all had that. We’ve all had that experience where, someone has done this in public, and you felt embarrassed. You felt shamed in front of others. That’s the worst thing that we want our team, or the people that we’re communicating with, to feel. Just make sure that you’re doing this in private. I love the fact that we can lift up, properly, people in public, but have these conversations in private.

Perry Holley:    I think it makes a lot of sense, but sometimes we trigger, and we say things. It shouldn’t happen.

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    Number two, “Thou shalt confront as soon as possible, and not look for a better time.” Again, I think we’re all guilty of this sometimes. There’s nothing worse than delaying confrontation to a later time. It causes confusion, can send a message that what happened wasn’t that important. One thing I’ve learned is, people are watching, and they’re thinking, “If you’re letting it go, it must be okay.” Or, your favoritism, with all kinds of other messaging that could be going on, just because we didn’t step up when we needed to. I think, time is of the essence. They don’t age well. When there’s a problem, they generally get worse.

Chris Goede:     Yeah, they get worse, and you even have a harder time confronting, or maybe sometimes, you’re like, “Oh, now we’re not going to talk about that,” and it’ll rear its head at another time.

Number three, “Thou shalt stick to the issue at hand.” No piling on here. When you have an issue, or grievance with somebody, we’re not going to unload all of them at one time. Here’s what I put, “Be specific, and use examples.” I think this is really key. Even though this is simple, let me tell you, this is something that I don’t do very well. Sometimes, I let things go, and it builds up, and all of a sudden, I’m like, “We’re having this conversation. Let’s just have it, and let me have all of it.” That’s not serving myself, or it’s not serving the individual that I’m having these conversations with well. I’ve got to stick to the issue at hand, that’s number three.

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Perry Holley:    I’m laughing because I’m hearing myself say, “And another thing.”

Chris Goede:     That’s right, yeah.

Perry Holley:    “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and another thing.” Just, no piling on, that wouldn’t be good.

Number four, “Thou shalt make thy point and not repeat it.”

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    That really is, don’t harp on the problem. Make your point, seek feedback, don’t keep circling back to re-drill the point over and over again. It’s not good manners, and it really can cause people…you won’t get the benefit that you’re looking for, about having the confrontation. It’ll really feel like you’re really pounding on someone.

Chris Goede:     I call this politicizing.

Perry Holley:    Oh.

Chris Goede:     I think, if we can learn to do this, not only in this particular situation, but leaders even in meetings, if we can keep people from politicizing, it’ll save you a lot of time, and your conversations will be a lot more effective.

Number five, “Thou shalt deal only with actions that can be changed.” Remember, what we want in ourselves, and we want with our people, we’re going after behavioral change. Focus on the behaviors that are at hand, or that are driving this conversation, and don’t make it personal. It’s about the behaviors, not the individual. I know some people are going to say, “That’s hard to separate,” and I understand that. Make sure the examples that you’re using, and the conversation is driven by the behaviors of which you see, or the ones that you want to confront.

Perry Holley:    Right, don’t make it personal.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Number six, “Thou shalt avoid sarcasm, especially in an email or text.” Actually, humor needs to be really careful. I don’t even think it has a place, pretty much. When you’re confronting someone, it can be very confusing to someone. Words and tone matter. Don’t joke or be sarcastic. It could be seen as almost a personal attack, if done that way. We want to make sure that we maintain the seriousness of the conversation, without resulting to being sarcastic with someone, I think.

Chris Goede:     The other comment I put on here in my notes was, “Or in a meeting me. You said, “Don’t do this in an email, or a text,” or even, in front of people, or in a meeting, don’t be sarcastic. I’ve got to be careful, I’ve got to watch this one, because I tend to go that way. I’m trying to get a laugh or two, or get a point across, and there’s really no place for it, to your point in an email, text, or in a meeting with other people.

Number seven, “Thou shalt avoid words like always and never, because that’s very rarely ever accurate.” I’m laughing, not laughing. I’m smiling, and I’m thinking, “Oh man, I do this.” What I do is, when I hear always and never, what is my response? My response automatically goes, “Always? I always do that? I never do that?” I don’t really go and dissect the root, or the cause that we’re talking about. I go into those words, and I’ll be like, “That’s pretty strong, always and never.” I think this is a good tip right here, and a commandment. We shouldn’t use those two words when we’re confronting somebody. The issue speaks for itself, and you won’t be taken seriously if you insist on using those words. I’m just going to check if I hear those two words, because that’s not necessarily true.

Perry Holley:    They open the door for argument. They open the door for-

Chris Goede:     That’s right.

Perry Holley:    Disagreement. There’s just no need to open that door. Be more precise with your words.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Number eight, “Thou shalt ask questions, and offer suggestions.” I like this one a lot. Thinking through how I confront someone is not to lecture, or to scold, or to shame, but instead, asking questions. Look for positive intent. Maybe I don’t understand. We all have different perspectives on what happened. Am I listening to the other perspective, or have I already decided that it’s one way? If I ask good questions, assume positive intent. My motive, again, is helping the person to grow, and improve. It really is, “I’m looking for a way to help you. Not to be right, or to win, I’m trying to help you. I’m going to ask questions to get clarity, and I’m going to offer suggestions to move us forward.”

Chris Goede:     That’s good. Number nine, “Thou shalt not apologize for the confrontation.”

Perry Holley:    I wanted to know what you thought about that one. What do you think about that one?

Chris Goede:     You don’t want to reduce the importance of the conversation that you’re about to have. It’s not that you want to come in…you want to have a positive approach with it, but if you apologize, you’re reducing the importance, again, of the conversation you have. You need to have the conversation. Don’t apologize for having that conversation. Don’t apologize for confronting the behavior of the conversation that you want to. You don’t want to apologize for something that is accurate, that you need to have, because it’ll just diminish what you’re trying to have a conversation about.

Perry Holley:    I think I do this, and it’s not even, like you said at the top, trying to be liked, or not hurt people’s feelings, or I’m trying to be friendly in this, so I’ll say, “I’m sorry I have to have this conversation with you. I’m sorry we have to talk about this, and I’m thinking, “Why am I sorry? I’m here to address the situation.” I’m trying to soften it somehow, or to even make myself feel better, in the midst of it. I like that one. Don’t don’t apologize.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Finally, number 10. “Thou shalt remember to highlight the person’s positive contributions.” I like this one as well. We want, to your point a minute ago, address the behavior, but affirm the person. Sometimes, if you’re confronting someone, to them, if you’ve ever been confronted, it can make you seem like everything’s wrong, everything’s a bad, everything you do. It’s not. It’s generally a situation, and if you haven’t let it go on too long, it’s probably an isolated situation.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Can you just address that while still affirming the person, and their positive contribution to the team? We made a mistake, or we had a failure, or we dropped the ball. That’s okay. We’re learn from it, but we’re going to move forward from that. You’re still a good person, and we want to do everything we can to preserve, as you said on the last podcast, I think, about protect the connection.

Chris Goede:     Yeah.

Perry Holley:    Regardless of the content, to do that. Make that connection the prime thing, and the content’s the content, on that. Why don’t you go ahead and wrap it up for us?

Chris Goede:     As I wrap up, and we close this session of the 10 commandments of confrontation, I hope there were a couple that you look at and you say, “That’s going to help me. I need to really evaluate, how do I handle that?” And maybe, write this list down even before you get ready to go into having a tough conversation with somebody, and work through them. I think they’re simple, but as I mentioned earlier, very profound in how to be able to confront somebody.

The other thing I want to mention, there’s two things as I wrap up here. Make sure that you tie the values of your company to those conversations. As you think about the behavior that you’re talking about, not the person, it’s always good to bring in the values of the company, if there’s an alignment there, where there’s confrontation, to say, “This doesn’t align with the values and the behavior of our organization, and that’s why we need to look at this.” When you do that, it makes it even more about the behavior, and not aligning with the values, than it actually does the individual. If your values inside your organization are well known, and they’re strong, and they’re talked about often, which, by the way, they should be, you can tie those conversations to the values. One of ours is, exceeding expectations. You could use that, and I could use that as a part of my conversation.

The other thing is, as we begin thinking about this, a lot of this was others focused, and it should be, because, how do we do that? Remember, as leaders, we’re 50% of every situation, of every problem, of every conversation. Not more, not less, 50% of it’s us, 50% is the other. Make sure you’re being fully accountable to your side of it, as well. Make sure you evaluate that, and talk about that through your confrontation. I think that’ll be very beneficial when you have those conversations.

Perry Holley:    Thanks Chris, great stuff. As a reminder, if you’d like to see that list of 10, I’ve put those in the learner guide today. You can also leave a question or a comment, you can do all [email protected]/podcast. We always love hearing from you, and we’re very grateful you’d spend this time with us. That’s all today from the Maxwell executive leadership podcast.

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