Management via Critical Confrontations


Managers are hired and paid well to confront people.

After all, anyone and everyone can tell you that you are doing a good job and to keep up the good work. In fact, everyone does — it’s one of the easiest conversations to have and required a relatively low level of skill.

However, confronting others when performance is below expectations, or when promises are broken is another matter.

Also, confronting others when the stakes are high, either because there is a great deal riding on the conversation, or because there is a high probability that things can go badly….that’s another story. There are those who say that they shy away from confrontation and try to avoid it wherever possible. If that person is a manager, then they cannot be successful if they persist in that behaviour.

I’ve heard it said that the job of management is to “interrupt the drift” or in other words to creatively disrupt the inertia of business as usual. A manager’s most basic tool, the one used most frequently, and the one that they receive almost no training to employ on a daily basis is a critical confrontation.

They fear of being caught in these more than some people think they can bear. They will give money to avoid them. Some employees see that they would have to have these conversations and are unwilling to have them.

Most Caribbean managers try to avoid them completely, and in my opinion among the three major territories, Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Barbadians are in that order increasingly likely to avoid the conversations entirely.

The beauty of critical confrontations is that when they are done skillfully they are contagious, and they spread in very direction. An employee who has been handled skilfully by their boss is more likely to confront his project team manager (a peer) more readily and skillfully.

In a meeting, employees are more likely to challenge their senior managers, and not resort to actions that are violent and silent.

Senior managers must develop an ability and a capacity to manage these conversations.

  • They need to LOOK to find them
  • They need to SEE what needs to be done
  • They need to TELL the TRUTH about the situation and the players
  • They need to ACT to bring resolution

Team members that learn to “un-confront” can help to kill projects, again due to the fact that the behaviour is so contagious.