Dare to confront

Creating a culture of responsibility and accountability.

by Jens Højgaard, CEO, Maestro Business 

“I am responsible and I will hold you accountable. I am willing to speak up when I disagree, am uncertain or when you break our shared norms, rules or standards. I will make you think and reevaluate, by challenging your current thought patterns. Remind you when you forget, correct you if you misunderstand. And I insist that you do the same to me.” 

“Instead of faking harmony, our blunt confrontations make us stronger and better. They tighten our connection. They add synergy to our collective intelligence, promote shared thinking and they increase our joint performance.”


So why don’t you confront? 

In western society confrontations are perceived negatively and often as something to be avoided. And even if you are freed from cultural norms and idiosyncrasies your own psychology will easily get in your way. Neurologically speaking humans are programmed to conform to others in order to form social bonds and avoid conflict as it might harm them. Most people find it extremely unpleasant to confront another human being. We value harmony over confrontation, being popular over being accountable, social conformity over results, being quiet over the risk of being wrong.

Unconsciously we seek to surround ourselves with people with the same background, experiences and thought patterns. When we meet people with opposite views to us, people who confront and actively disagree with us, we find them extremely energy consuming because they force us ... To think! 

However, constructive confrontation is the single most important skill for anyone working with people. For accountability and responsibility to exist and for collective thinking to grow, people need to be willing to confront colleagues, bosses and peers.

  • In the UK it is estimated that 12,000 deaths in hospitals care caused annually by human errors that are preventable. In Denmark the number is 2,000 per annum representing 7% of all deaths in hospitals.
  • From 5,000 violations found in US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspections at pharmaceutical, medical device and food producers. Almost 20% can be linked directly to not following the company’s own standard operating procedures, severely jeopardizing public safety and even leading to criminal charges.
  • When asked, 96% of all financial sector employees say they are highly responsible. They also say that only 18% of their colleagues hold the same high levels of responsibility.
  • Surveys of U.S. workers indicate that only 29% are actively engaged in their job while 24% are actively disengaged, meaning they hate their job, and they hate you.
  • Of European and American executives, 83% answer that they have issues or concerns that they are afraid to raise. They are afraid of the confrontations that it would provoke and of the personal consequences of not managing confrontations well.

When people fail to confront, or do not confront well, consequences can be severe; relationships can be destroyed, expectations broken, deadlines missed, performance reviews go badly, stress levels rise, misbehaviour prevails and overall performance drops. In fact looking at the largest human and organisational catastrophes in history, they are almost never caused by missing or hidden information. They almost always could have been avoided if someone effectively spoke up at the right moment.

87% of employees in western organizations avoid confrontations and seek conformity instead. Thus many organizations miss out on one of the most critical organizational mechanisms: building collective intelligence. 

How much resource is your company investing in hiring and sustaining the best talents, but realise that you cannot utilise them, because of an inability to build collective thinking?


Dare to confront

A “good” confrontation is characterised as having developed closer relationships and having increased performance after the confrontation. Any organization in serious need of conflict resolution, mediation and improved overall performance is most often a result of confrontations that have gone bad or not taken at all.

The challenge with confrontations is that they often involve strong feelings. There is a personal risk in having to confront another person. "What if I’m wrong, and my boss is right?" "What if I’m alone in my view?" "What if she gets upset and leaves?" "What if I’m ridiculed or misunderstood?" Because feelings drive human behavior, a badly held confrontation throws people into defensive mode where they either attack you verbally or they clam up, giving you the dumb insolence treatment. Neither can bring about needed change and growth.

Thus good confrontation skills are all about mastering human psychology, and very little about communication and dialogue techniques.  Since good confrontation skills are not something learned in school, some people will pick them up by coincidence as life goes by. However, most will avoid them as much as humanly possible. But good confrontation skills can and should be learned.