DR. CUMMINGS: Confronting with tact

June 9, 2013 

Everybody confronts somebody sometime: bosses, parents, teachers, spouses and even friends. It happens all the time. Parents do it at home; teachers do it in the classroom; spouses do it in the living room after the kids have gone to bed. A wife must confront a flirty husband, just as a boss must confront a lazy employee. None of this is easy, especially for introverts. But you can always tell when the person doing the confronting is a leader, and when he’s not.

I’ll never forget the day Ray Jeffery fired Allen Black. Ray asked Allen to come to the corporate office for a 3 p.m. appointment that day and he asked me to sit in on the meeting. Ray was the president, and he had hired Allen five years ago.

When Allen got inside Ray’s office and we shut the door, Ray handed him a letter from a woman. She claimed she had given birth to Allen’s child, and now he refused to support her and the child. She was calling a lawyer if the company didn’t do something.

Ray shouted: “Is this true, Allen?”

Allen began to deny the whole thing: “No, Ray, this woman has been trying to destroy my marriage for years ...” But Ray cut him off and began to shout and swear and say he didn’t believe him. He claimed Allen was a disgrace to his family and to our company. Finally, Ray stood up and pointed to the door and fired him on the spot. I found out much later that Allen had told the truth: the woman was a liar. It turned out that Ray was a boss, but he was not a leader.

If you have to confront somebody this week, and you want to do it like a leader, you might want to think about these five rules:

1. Cool off. If you’re angry, (the way Ray was) cool off. Wait an hour, or even a day, but don’t start a confrontation when you’re boiling. It’ll just turn into a shouting match, and what have you gained? Don’t put it off too long, however -- especially with children; they won’t know what you’re talking about.

2. State the facts. “This is what I saw you do.” Don’t launch into the “always game”: “You always do this.” Just stick with the facts. If you’re the boss and he’s missing his sales targets, show him the sales chart. Ray was correct in showing Allen the letter.

3. Listen. Allen left the building and the company -- without ever being heard. It’s hard to listen when your mind is made up. Everything sounds like excuses. But if you’re going to have a “tactful confrontation,” you must empty your mind, and listen. Listening doesn’t mean you agree. Listening doesn’t mean you’ve turned soft. Listening provides the “tact” that every successful confrontation must have.

4. Tell how you feel. After you have listened to everything he has to say, make it very clear how his actions made you feel. Every husband will say: “I didn’t mean anything by it.” That’s wonderful, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how you feel. The salesman will have a hundred reasons why he can’t meet his goals; none of them will change the fact that he makes you feel frustrated or embarrassed or irritated.

5. Ask for change. Ask him what he intends to do about it. You’ve been tactful: you’ve curbed your anger; you’ve stated the facts and listened; you’ve let him know how his actions made you feel. Now you have a right to know what changes will be made, when and how.

Everybody confronts; leaders do it tactfully.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service