Is face-to-face confrontation a good thing? This is a perennial question always being asked in management circles. Most of the time from what I have seen or heard from till now, leaders/managers try to avoid face to face confrontation by delegating it to soft forms like email, letters or even delegating it to HR or other specialized agencies. In today’s world, especially since the 2008 recession and the unstable economy since then, careers have been rocked too many times due to continuous and relentless churning from companies. This has led to the development of systems and processes that ensure face-to-face confrontation is kept to a minimum and people are ‘being let go’ through other means.
Why are leaders avoiding face-to-face confrontation these days? I had a chance to converse with many people who were at many times being laid off from different companies; and the common refrain that they keep mentioning is that- we were hurt the most when our immediate supervisor was no where to be found as we were being let go. If they are so scared of confronting us with our failures, it makes us wonder as to what did we actually do wrong?
Is confrontation a bad thing? I was searching some literature over confrontation in the hopes of writing a blog post on confrontation. I came across the following quote from David Bowie- Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.
During my school years, much ado was made about the fact how medical students have to watch a corpse all by themselves for few hours in a closed room for their very first lab class. Some people have commented how much of a nerve-racking experience it was. But most of them mentioned that practical truly prepared them for the future. I remember an incident from secondary school years, when I had to view a suicide in the hostel I lived in India. The manager of the hostel was accused of financial embezzlement and before he could be formally charged, he decided to end his life rather risk the shame and notoriety afterwards. What made it challenging to me was that couple of hours before he decided to end it, I ran into him while doing laundry. He was happy at that time and we had a fun conversation. He was nowhere to be seen the next day and a day later, his decomposed body was found from the woods, with a rope around his neck and a broken tree branch. Seeing his body being taken from the woods shocked me to the core for weeks.
After that incident, I have seen how my grandparents and many relatives both young and old moving on from this earthly life. Each and everytime you get emboldened to face the inevitable and be immune to the fear and the fact that-one day you might be next. That to me is the naked truth behind confrontation. It is to realize the fact that everything is finite. Confronting the issue or the person can portray exactly your viewpoint on this matter and also to listen to the other person about his view and why the decision was made in this regard. It is important to clear the air and move on, as life is simply finite.
Most of the time whenever I end up in confrontation, I try to do justice in the first go itself, but sometimes, it doesn’t turn out the way I intend it to turn. But that is not to be worried. It is essential that communication is made face-to-face and if needed supplemented by the soft tools like email etc. Confrontation has to be clear, concise and if needed brutal. Be prepared for the feedback and try to channel it in a positive manner so that a realistic outcome is achieved.
To read more about confrontation, check out this book:
The Power of Positive Confrontation: The Skills You Need to Handle Conflicts at Work, at Home, Online, and in Life, completely revised and updated edition