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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Power of Confrontation

Living and working in what is called the “Minnesota Nice” state creates an interesting challenge for me. My clients perceive me to be direct and confrontational, among many other things, which I think is a correct assessment of my style and my underlying beliefs. It is partly who I grew up to be and who I developed to be, of which being Dutch is likely a big piece. And it is partly who and above all ‘how’ I want to be, from a personal and a professional point of view. This style reflects my beliefs about human nature and about creating lasting change and growth.

In my job as a coach, mentor, trainer, and psychologist I want people to move forward effectively. That’s obviously not just what I want, that’s what my customers hire and pay me for. Each and every one of my clients needs to start moving differently for a variety of reasons. They need to move forward in the right direction and it is my belief that they are better off doing this with vigor, perseverance, courage, and speed. I do not wish to take the leisurely stroll, I prefer a deep dive and a fast paced run. My goal with any coaching project, workshop, or training is to generate in the client effective beliefs, attitudes, and skills that are self-sustaining, self-correcting, and directly supportive of the expected performance results, in such a way that they become their own best coaches – independent from an outside expert. My goal is to make myself redundant at the earliest possible opportunity.

The best way for me to accomplish these goals is by being bluntly, and of course respectfully, candid with my clients, from the very first contact, whether it be in person or on the phone. I can give you examples of prospects who contacted me and, during our phone call, I sensed they weren’t charmed by my direct comments and my provocative questions. I wasn’t sure whether they were really ready and willing to do what it takes to create change and growth. They wanted change all right, but rather from the back seat and with an emphasis on venting and playing the victim of colleagues, of the system, of management, of economic circumstances or whatever people come up with to avoid the critical and sometimes painful introspection and self-assessment.

Such change, of course, isn’t real change, or at least not the way I see necessary to increase awareness, insights, resilience, and true accountability. Quiet a few of my clients seemed to be looking for someone to howl with them, for someone to feel sorry for them, and for someone to dump their load without looking at the real dynamics and their own role and responsibility in it all. I don’t even think this is really what they wanted, but that’s how they presented themselves, this is what they were used to doing. And so I discuss these thoughts and concerns with them, in the first meeting or during the first phone call.

Generally, by the time I finish my intake conversation with a prospect, whether it be for individual coaching or for teamwork, they will have experienced my style with candid feedback and provocative questions, all practiced with great care and respect for each individual, so they have some sense of what they are getting themselves in to. And I will ask them whether they are willing to be told the unspoken and whether they are willing to face different and sometimes painful perspectives. If the answer is yes, we’re good to go. We are good to take the road to discovery, confrontation, self-awareness, falling and getting up, and of course of support and expert advice.

I have turned down clients in that first phone call or during the intake session, most of them eventually contacting me again, this time with a different attitude. In some cases I was still not convinced that they were willing to work smart and hard to make the changes necessary to reach their objectives, but at least with a better sense of my style and beliefs and with an increased awareness of their wishes, needs, and fears and of their tendency to act as a victim, we would agree to two sessions in which I assess the change-readiness and the change-willingness as I call it, while immediately starting the work towards the agreed objectives.  

In many ways, it doesn’t have to be different for you in your role of colleague, manager, business owner, or leader. So let me ask you: Are you hesitant to confront and be direct? Do you fear the possibility of people disliking you or disagreeing with you? Do you fear stirring up emotions? Are you locked up in an upbringing and training that falsely taught you that respect equals keeping quiet about what you really see and think? That respect equals avoiding doing and saying anything that might upset someone? That’s a pity, because in the end, people usually respect the direct peer, coach, or leader better and, more importantly, they get much farther with them because they know they can trust them and gain real insights and support from them. Direct and candid people, if practiced with a good sense of timing and respect, of course, are generally very well respected. They are transparent and trustworthy. They really add value by revealing blind spots and speaking the unspoken. At a top executive level it’s the same story. CEO’s and their counterparts have fewer and fewer people around them who are willing and daring enough to say what they really see, suspect, think, and belief.

If you remember one thing from this post, than let it be this: It is the direct person who is clear, candid, and open who is often preferred above the one who softsoaps, beats around the bush, avoids, postpones, and talks in disguised terms. What would you prefer yourself?

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