Speak In Truth & Love
Adapted from excerpts by Dr. Henry Cloud
One of the most important aspects of character in life, without question, is one’s ability to confront. It is true that you get what you tolerate. If the nature of reality is that there are always problems, if you do not confront them and instead tolerate them, then problems are what you will have. I have never met or observed a person with a truly whole, successful wake who did not confront well.
Non-confronters leave a lot of success on the table. Problems overcome them and stop them, for their political tendency for “people pleasing” can only get them so far. To do well, and to treat people well, we must confront the problems we have with them. Non-confronters also leave a lot of messes in their wake. Those affected by their lack of confrontation, and messes they allowed, are deeply disappointed in them. Confrontation adds structure to teams, projects, relationships, and life. Structure adds security, and people thrive in security. Without the security that confrontation provides, people and relationships languish. Both intimacy and performance get sick and die. The wake is not good.
But, the absence of confrontation is only one piece of the problem. The other piece is confrontation that is not done well. A lot of people confront easily, even too easily, and yet do it in a manner that is more destructive than helpful. The combative or angry or critical, demeaning confronter does not solve problems. He or she usually drives problems more deeply into hiding by creating an atmosphere of fear rather than resolution.
If you fail to confront, you will lose. But, if you confront poorly, you will also lose. So, you must confront, but confront well. That means that the truth-telling side of your character must be integrated with the loving and caring side of your character. When you show up to deal with a problem, you must bring both of them together. Confront the problem, but in a way that preserves the relationship and the person. If you err on either side, the wake will be affected.
We hear a lot of ways of communicating this truth. In parenting, we hear the phrase love and limits. That means to be caring and be firm. In theology, we hear grace and truth, which means to be “for the person” and have standards. In psychology, we hear authenticity and love, which means to be real and caring. However we look at it, the important thing is to say what needs to be said, and to say it in a way that shows we care about the person.
The best prescription for leaders I’ve ever heard on how to do this came from a friend of mine who leads a company. I think it applies to all of life, not just leadership. He says, “I try to go hard on the issue and soft on the person.” That means that both his truth-telling and his care for the connection came together at once.
But this requires that leaders are careful to “neutralize” hard truth, making it not overwhelming, but something to be looked at without being emotionally charged. If the leader is still running around with a lot of anger inside, then confrontation is going to be toxic. In that state, they might be in danger of treating others not in the way they themselves want to be treated, but in the way that they have been treated. They repeat the abuse they have been subject to in their own experience.
Another aspect of confronting well is that integrated people care about the results of the confrontation, not just about making themselves feel good. So, they ask themselves before the confrontation, “What do I want to have happen as a result of this confrontation?” They think, “I want to solve the problem, make the relationship stronger, help the person develop, and empower their development.” So, they confront in a way that is going to bring about that wake.
They also tend to stay connected in two ways. After the confrontation is over, they check in to see how it is before they leave. “So, what are you hearing me say?” They want to make sure that it was clear and also that the connection is good. The other way is they follow up to see how it is going. They see confrontation and problem solving as a process, not an event.
Confrontation does not have to be adversarial. It merely means that we are going to face this issue together instead of putting our heads in the sand and ignoring it. I like the phrase “to turn your face toward” as the meaning of confront. It does not mean a military destruction of the other side, but a coming together of two people facing some problem and finding a solution that brings it all together. Poor confronters turn things adversarial too easily and quickly. It is experienced as me versus you, or us versus them, as opposed to this way:
You and I versus the problem.
In that scenario, we are a team against what is wrong, and we are coming together to fix it. That keeps the problem, the person, the relationship, and the result all in healthy perspective.