Guidelines for Healthy Confrontation
A good leader can't avoid confrontation. Here's how to do it right.
Leaders Don’t Avoid Confrontation
Occasional confrontation is a reality for anyone in leadership. In fact, avoiding confrontation altogether may be unhealthy. Regardless of your personality or communication style, one of the most critical skills that a leader must acquire is the willingness and ability to address problems when they arise. Conflict avoidance can be detrimental to you, the leader. It can also harm the business, organization or congregation you lead.
In fact, a special health report from Harvard Medical School recently found that the ability to address conflicts—rather than ignoring them or letting them fester—was a critical stress reduction skill.
Yet, many of us struggle with the idea of confrontation, correction, or discipline, especially when it comes to personal relationships. Working in the nonprofit world or even as a pastor, I’ve seen my peers avoid conflict because of insecurity, fear, or simply because it makes them uneasy.
Anyone who works with people on a regular basis needs to learn how to confront and manage conflict in a timely, forthright manner. It’s essential for your own well-being and for the people you serve. Here are a few things I’ve learned about conflict and leadership.
Insights from Scripture
First, as a pastor, I place great value in what the Bible says about confrontation, correction, and discipline. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to start with these truths.
Honest rebuke is more beneficial, in the long run, than flattery:
He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward
Than he who flatters with the tongue.—Proverbs 28:23
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.—Proverbs 27:6
Addressing mistakes can solidify relationships:
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’”—Matthew 18:15-16
Growth begins with speaking the truth in love:
…we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head…—Ephesians 4:14-15
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.—Ephesians 4:25-27
Leaders should be prepared to convince and reprimand:
I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.—2 Timothy 4:1-2
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”—Luke 17:3
Jesus himself was described as a confrontational figure who, according to John 1:14, was “full of grace and truth.” These two concepts—grace and truth—must accompany each other. Grace without truth is empty cheerleading. Truth without grace can border on cruelty. In other words, always season your confrontation with kindness and goodness.
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When Confrontation is Necessary
In the corporate world or any organized employee structure, confrontation is sometimes necessary to address issues, foster transparency or drive performance. But before confronting someone, a leader should always assess his or her motivations and weight those against the significance of the issue at hand.
Sometimes confrontation comes from misplaced motivations. Make sure you’re not just venting personal frustration or trying to establish dominance or control. As shown above in the biblical passages correct motivations for conflict resolution include the pursuit of truth, protecting an employee or colleague, strengthening relationships, or protecting the organization from harm. (In the religious world, a pastor may also find it necessary to correct or confront someone to address destructive sin, as mentioned in 1 John 5:16.)
I suggest using these criteria to help decide whether confrontation is necessary:
Will the issue negatively affect our personal relationship or the organization if not confronted?
Is the problem having a significantly negative effect on the individual or others around them?
Will ignoring the situation lead to gossip, rejection, or harmful behavior?
Is this issue negatively the reputation of the business, organization or church?
Is there a destructive sin involved? (church settings only)
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then confrontation is necessary.
Seven Guidelines for Healthy Confrontation
The following guidelines should be adhered to during confrontation:
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