Volume 77, August 2007: Constructive Confrontation

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2007 ISSN # 1545-8873

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength but through perseverance.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

“In life we make progress by conflict and in mental life by argument and disputation … There must be confrontation and opposition, in order that sparks be kindled.” — Christopher Hitchens

“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” — Will Rogers

“Resolving conflict is rarely about who is right. It is about acknowledgement and appreciation of differences.” — Thomas F. Crum


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Frank and honest communication.
  • The ability to constructively confront issues before they escalate.
  • Framing issues correctly and in a non-threatening way.
  • Inspiring positive change.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Constructive conflict and “negative” feedback have earned the reputation of being “tongue-lashings.” So we shy away from confrontation, thinking it will be uncomfortable or stressful. We look past the problem and go on.

Just as everything has two sides, constructive confrontation can be an opportunity to help someone else. It demonstrates your desire to open dialogue with them, which is an expression of caring. Position yourself where there is no winner or loser, no bad people, only an opportunity to learn and improve. Set your intention to have both/all parties leave feeling satisfied that they can move forward, changed for the better.

Frequently Asked Questions

“I dread confronting people problems. Advice? ”
If you avoid, you collude. Stone, Patton and Heen (1999) have written a book that will help all of us with these Difficult Conversations. They suggest shifting from a “message stance“ to a “learning stance.” This means inviting the other person into the conversation to help us figure things out.
You want to create an environment where each others’ stories can be told and heard. Where we are curious and not judgmental. Where we are safe to express feelings and share our viewpoints. The problem then becomes the difference between the stories, and together, as partners, we work on collaborative solutions.
“How do I start a constructive confrontation?”
You can seize a defining leadership moment by effective framing with language (see Fairhurst & Sarr, The Art of Framing: Managing the Language of Leadership. 1996):
  • (Partnering) “I have some information that might be helpful to you.”
  • (Assist in problem-solving) “There's something going on here … Help me understand.”
  • (Use of metaphors) “There are two faces on this issue – let’s explore them.”
  • (Spin in a positive light) “When you …, this seems to happen. I know it is not your intention.”
  • (Vision-based framing) “If I see something that could help you be more successful, would you like to hear about it?”
  • Confrontation can simply be a question: “Will you help shed some light on what’s happening here?”
“Is there an outline for providing constructive feedback?”
There are several helpful links below. In general:
  • Prepare beforehand by compiling a list of the facts surrounding the issue.
  • Arrange a quiet, uninterrupted space and time to invite them to talk.
  • Present the problem (behavior or action) and the supporting data with a calm demeanor (you may want to rehearse).
  • Indicate your willingness to help resolve the problem.
  • Give the other person a chance to respond without interrupting. Listen deeply.
  • Engage in dialogue and build partnership.
  • Thoroughly discuss the problem before moving to solutions.
  • Invite the other person’s creativity in solution-generating.
  • Strive for an agreement that is win-win. Establish a plan with checkpoints.
“Do you have other tips on feedback?”
See our keyzine issue: On Feedback.
It is helpful to reframe positive and negative feedback as reinforcing and redirecting. The core of all effective feedback is “description.”
Good feedback is:
  • Descriptive
  • Behavioral
  • Specific
  • Timely (close to the behavior)
  • Given in manageable amounts
  • About behavior that can be changed
  • Owned by the provider of the feedback (“I” statement)

and is not:

  • Purely evaluative
  • Vague or ambiguous
  • Labeling or stereotyping
  • Exaggerated
  • Attributing motive
  • Delayed
  • Lengthy
  • Complicated
  • Shaming or blaming

Constructive confrontation always contains the descriptive component, with the added support of data on why it is not working.


An outline for Constructive Confrontation techniques: Constructive Confrontation.

Another outline on how-to: .

A white paper on Constructive Confrontation: Wellness and Worklife.

Key Associates offers a course on how to confront conflict effectively: Conflict Course and mediation services to help others face their differences constructively: Products and Services.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Performance problems and corrective interviews: .

Constructive Confrontation as a retention tool: The Corrective Interview.

Applications in higher education: Student Protests, Negotiation, and Constructive Confrontation.

Keyzines on related topics: Mediating Conflict, Personal Change, Facilitative Leadership, Dialogue: Thinking Together, Feedback, and Having Difficult Conversations.



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