I Have to Confront my Boss!

That’s what Sean angrily said. [Names have been changed.] When I asked him about the problem, he muttered something about a continual misunderstanding, but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, pinpoint the primary issue.

Over coffee, his black and mine with cream and sugar, I asked Sean to think about it. “Is the boss being irrational, mean-spirited, or offensive? Or are you reacting to something else?”

“I just don’t like him, but I haven’t really figured out why. I guess I do need to think about it.”

Sean was a man of few words but with good work ethics. With his permission, I made an appointment with Jack.

“Oh, Sean’s one of the best workers I have. Never late, hardly ever a complaint about his work. He just appears to be sullen a lot, but it beats me why. I wonder if he’s got family problems. Got any ideas?”

“Jack, I would like you to confront Sean because ….”

“Oh, no! Like I said, he’s a good worker, and I don’t want to lose him. Let’s just let it be.”

I took a deep breath and asked for a cup of coffee – with cream and sugar. “Jack, may I discuss the concept of healthy confrontation with you? I only need about ten minutes.”

“Take fifteen, and get on with it.” Jack got his own coffee – black. I was beginning to understand the situation, and was glad I brought my notes with me.

Confrontation can be either friendly, abrasive, or explosive. Confrontation is presenting ideas which at times are opposing or unknown to the listener. It is bringing themes, ideas, plans together for comparison and discussion. But people often take a defensive posture and turn confrontation into angry disagreement, resulting in antagonistic action or sullen withdrawal. It can devolve into explosive verbal – and sometimes physical – altercation.

Therefore, I suggested a true confrontation: “bringing two opposing parties face-to-face” in a non-threatening environment in order to resolve or prevent conflict. The purpose of confrontation is to help people, not hurt them. Many psychologists and counselors have their own list of steps, but I’ll simplify it.

Be firm and bold. (2 Cor. 13:1) Address the problem, don’t attack the person. Take witnesses if needed. Start with a compliment.

Be accurate and honest. (Matthew 5:37) Communicate your feelings assertively, not aggressively.  Express them without blaming.

Listen without interrupting. Ask for feedback if needed to assure a clear understanding of the issue. Don’t review the situation as a competition where one has to win and one has to lose.

Affirm all you can that is good. (2 Cor. 7:4) Remember, when only one person’s needs are satisfied, the issue is not resolved. Work toward a solution where both parties can have most of their needs met.

Know the facts. (2 Cor. 11:22-27) Listen first, talk second. And, hopefully, the authority figure should listen first. You should listen to what the other person is saying before presenting your own position. They might say something that changes your mind.

Focus on the issue, not your position. Accept the fact that individual opinions may change, so be observant. Work to develop areas of common ground.

And remember, not all “issues” are part of the problem. Many will dissipate when others are resolved. Know when to let something go. If you can’t come to an agreement, agree to disagree. When the relationship is established, little issues fall by the wayside.

Be gentle after being firm. (2 Cor. 7:8-15) It’s easy for people to get entrenched in their positions and for tempers to flare, voices to rise, and body language to become defensive. Build on mutual respect and understanding. And don’t be afraid of humor or laughing. Scripture says laughing often helps as much as medicine does. Be willing to forgive. Without forgiveness, resolving conflict is impossible.

Jack and Sean agreed to a meeting in the back corner of a coffee shop. I encouraged Sean to “pry yourself out of your shell” and tell the boss about his primary concerns. I also asked Jack to listen without interrupting, and to try not to speak so abruptly.

When analytical Sean began to realize how much Jack valued him, his demeanor picked up. And businessman Jack was amazed to discover Sean’s in-depth knowledge of the company. (The company benefited when Sean got a promotion.)

Confrontation is necessary and beneficial if conducted properly. A willingness to confront, a healthy understanding, and a good cup of coffee go a long way.

Think about it, and work on it.