Confrontation is a Gift Even If It Feels Like a Punch To The Gut

I want to share a story with you that I have not shared with many before.  It is hard to openly admit when I have royally messed up, but it is something that I also am grateful for. And if getting past my pride can give us all pause to cause, then I of course will divulge.

Last spring, my boss at the time swung by my desk and impromptu asked if I had a few minutes to chat. Now, I was  (and still am) close with her. I knew instinctively this conversation was not going to be pleasant.

When we get settled at a table outside, she cut to the chase and told me that she has been hearing that my team has been complaining and frustrated that I was micromanaging them. Which for anyone who has ever managed can attest that being called a micromanager is quite possibly one of the worst insults professionally you ever will experience.

She did not give me a lot of details or who said what. She told me because she wanted me to talk to my team and to handle it on my own. I have had other situations at work having to confront people so this concept was not new to me. It was still extremely anxiety ridden and intimidating.

This conversation with my boss took place on a Tuesday and I had decided I would address this directly with my team on Thursday at a scheduled meeting. Now, my team at the time was 4 people (3 of whom were expressing they did not like me micromanaging). I literally lost sleep over this for multiple nights. I went through so many stages trying to process this issue and I had so many questions.

I started with feeling indignant. I was NOT a micromanager and screw my team for saying I am. If I do micromanage, it is because THEY deserve it.

That line of thinking did not last long. At all. I had to really change my mindset and accept that there could be validity in what they were feeling.

One of the most important things I realized though is that it really did not matter if they were right or if I was right. It was about this unsaid tension between us that if I did not respectfully and diplomatically address with them, it was not just going to away nor was I magically going to have a solid, trusting team. Because the thing is, once someone labels you as anything whether, it is a micromanager or lazy or fake or an all out bitch, everything you do in their eyes will prove why you are. And I did not like feeling that my team was going to repeatedly snicker behind my back and analyze everything I say or do. As a manager and more importantly as a leader, it really matters to me to be respected. You do not have to like me necessarily or agree with my choices or directives, but at least understand to a point that my character is not in question.

I felt extremely vulnerable and I also felt like I failed as a leader, which lead to so much self-doubt that it had me question if I had any right to be a manager. It was very humbling to say the least and was quite crippling.

I scripted what I wanted to say to my team ahead of time. I wanted to be honest and upfront and make them feel like I was open to hearing their feelings and issues without them being judged or concerned that I would somehow retaliate against them. I wish I kept the script because I would have 100% enclosed it in this post. So I am going to do my best to recall the important points and discussion:

  • I let them know that I am not the type to dismiss feedback and that I take it so seriously. And I would never use it against them. If they are feeling like I am micromanaging, I want to talk about it openly.
  • I told them honestly that having to hear from my boss that my team felt I was micromanaging was very difficult to hear. It actually was harder coming from her instead of my team. It made me feel like I intimidated them so much so that they could not come to me. Yes, feedback is hard and yes, I may have been taken off guard. And yes, I may have needed time to process it when they addressed it, but I would look at it through their eyes as much as I would through my own.
  • I also let them know that I cannot fix something if I am not aware of it. I also did throw in what I feel is respect of coming to me directly instead of talking behind my back.

I joked with them to cut the tension a bit that I was essentially initiating my own intervention (which got a chuckle out of them). I asked them to share with me examples of times they felt I was micromanaging. And you know what? The things they recounted were not as hard to hear as I expected. More importantly, they were completely resolvable. One that stands out is that they wanted me to chime in less on calls with clients. They wanted to earn respect from them and not have anyone perceive them as incompetent because their manager was always talking for them. Ok, guys, done.

Our discussion was so positive. We tackled an awkward topic with dignity and directness. Not one person took it as an opportunity to shit all over me. They talked to me openly and with maturity. I never felt like they were attacking me despite that I knew they were really frustrated and demoralized. And that is how discussions should go.

Also, two of them in 1:1 meetings I had praised me for holding that meeting. They told me it took courage, and they were thankful that I did. Part of it too is people often forget managers are human too. Seeing me so vulnerable gave them a different level of reverence.

I also stressed to them that I do not have it all figured out just because I am a manager. I am constantly striving to grow and evolve. And feedback as hard as it is to give, is actually a gift. So many times we view feedback as a bad thing. Because we seem to have fallen into a culture of thinking confrontation is a negative. And in actuality, when you can figure out how to confront someone in a positive, RESPECTFUL way (I am deliberately using that word multiple times to make the point that it is ESSENTIAL!), you are helping them. Ignoring issues is counterproductive.

We often assume people want to critique us or tell us less than pleasant things because they come from a place of hate or a place of jealousy or we think they are projecting. That is bull shit. Whether it is your boss, or your employee or your friend or you sister or your father, that takes the time to respectfully tell you something, remember two things. One, they are coming from a place of love. They are not trying to deliberately hurt you because they get off on seeing you upset. Two, confronting someone is just as emotionally taxing on them as it is on the person receiving the message. So if they are doing it, it is because they have a justified reason (because remember, they could ignore it and save everyone a lot of heart ache).

We have to stop thinking confrontations are bad. You know, a lot of people equate a friendship or relationship of being solid with never having any fights or disagreements. And in my opinion, that is not necessarily true. People hold back and play it safe and I challenge that if they actually do address things head on, each person can grow and that relationship if anything can get stronger.

I share this story because I whole heartedly believe we need more healthy confrontations. Truth be told, much of this has been sparked lately with seeing too many public feuds on social media and it infuriates me quite bluntly.  I am tired of seeing people air their dirty laundry publically.

Everyone has a platform the second they login into Facebook and post something. Everyone has the ability to persuade their following to love them, to respect them, maybe even to fear them or dislike them. Everyone has the ability to pick and choose what they share with their following to get or stay in their good graces. Everyone has the ability to tell very one-sided stories to get that validation or vindication. They receive an outpouring of comments like “Haters gonna hate!” (which seriously, can we leave that expression in 2015?) or “You are so brave to share this!”

Bravery and strength is confronting the person who you feel wronged by directly and privately. Going on social media and telling half a story that is slander against someone else is cowardly. Talking to everyone else but the person in question is not brave. It is avoidance.

I could have chosen to ignore what my boss told me about my team. It sure as hell would have been a less painful process. I could have chosen to just talk shit about them to anyone at any chance I got to make myself look and feel blameless. I could have also selected who I told that I would know would assure me I was right and that I was dealing with immature and negative people. Because obviously if someone tells me something that hurts, the issue is them and not me. But guess what guys. We all have accountability in every situation we are in.

But I never even entertained that option. Professionally and personally, the people in my life who have the most impact are the ones who call it like it is, good or bad. The harrowing and the traumatic situations are the ones that I grow the most from. I am constantly evolving as I really believe we all should be. And we cannot do that if we are not open to having very honest conversations.

 

 

 

 

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