Last week I was tasked with doing training on productive confrontation to our field leaders.

So, I researched the topic and reflected on things I had learned about the subject previously.  One of the first places I started was with Kim Scott’s book, Radical Candor.

In Radical Candor, Scott points out how we have been taught all our lives if we don’t have anything nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all.  It is an excellent lesson for young people just finding their way through social interaction.  Often, we are unnecessarily mean to each other when we don’t keep quiet and keep our thoughts to ourselves.  Not all our opinions need to be shared.  Kim Scott points out this advice fails us when we move into leadership roles later in life.

If your job is to manage people and help them grow professionally, you need to give them feedback.  Feedback both negatively and positively.  Giving people feedback lets them know where they are doing well and where they need to improve or change.

Of course, how you give feedback makes all the difference in the world.  So, I came up with a 5-step process.  I hope I’m not plagiarizing.  But if you recognize my list and think I should give credit to somebody, please let me know.

The first step is trust.  As Patrick Lencioni points out in nearly all his books, trust is where all good relationships start.  If you need to bring up an issue with somebody and don’t have mutual trust, the confrontation will not go well.  Lencioni puts trust as the base of his pyramid in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

The second step is respect.  The people involved in the confrontation need to respect each other, and they need to show respect toward each other.  In Radical Candor, Kim Scott explains that we hit the sweet spot when we combine caring personally and challenging people directly instead of rage and keeping silent.  When you care about people on a personal level and speak up, you are showing them respect.

The third step is self-awareness.  When confronting someone, you need to know your role in the situation.  You need to consider how your actions or instruction might have caused the issue in the first place.  Perhaps the reason for the person’s failings is the result of something you did or said. We are human, so we need to keep our faults in mind.

The fourth step is keeping focus. Don’t go on tangents or bring up unrelated issues.  Also, don’t let the other person get you off-topic.  If you are talking to somebody about their frequent tardiness at work and they use car trouble as an excuse, don’t go off topic and start helping them solve car problems.  Stay focused. Remember, it is a conversation about frequent tardiness and getting to work on time.  Their current excuse for tardiness isn’t the issue at hand.

The fifth step is finding a solution.  The two people involved in a productive confrontation need to come up with a solution or path forward.  It is a professional situation, so resolution is needed.  The entire reason for bringing up the issue is to resolve the problem.  You had either a situation you needed to fix, or you had a situation you couldn’t allow to happen again.  The final step is to develop a plan to keep it from happening again.

Trust, respect, self-awareness, focus, and solution are the five keys to a productive confrontation.  We don’t need to seek out confrontation in the workplace, but we can’t run from confrontation once we move into a leadership role if we want to be an effective leader.

(For the purpose of this blog, I focused on negative feedback because the class was on confrontation.  I understand most feedback should be positive.)