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4 Tips for Non-Confrontational Leaders

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By definition, non-confrontational people avoid difficult conversations or conflict in the workplace. In fact, it was found that 5% of professionals use the avoiding conflict style, where they steer clear of a colleague when they have a disagreement. These types of professionals behave and communicate so that they do not upset or anger another person and cause the situation to escalate.

In leadership, though, one cannot avoid this forever. Sooner or later, you will need to deliver constructive feedback, sit down for a difficult conversation, or resolve a conflict that is putting your team’s productivity and culture at risk. It may not be the easiest or most comfortable part of the job as a leader, but it is part of the job nonetheless and cannot be neglected without causing significant problems for yourself and those you lead.

To help non-confrontational leaders approach difficult conversations with more confidence, below we’ve outlined five tips that can be implemented right away.


1. Find Out Your Conflict Style and Your Employees Styles Too

First and foremost, we recommend finding out what your conflict management style is. You can do so in less than 10 minutes by taking the quiz below.

But don’t stop there. Send it to your employees and ask them to find out what their conflict style is. Once everyone knows, have them share what their style is in a team meeting. Did they agree with the style the quiz identified for them? Do they feel they are a mix of styles? Is there something everyone should know about their approach to conflict? This information will not only help you approach difficult conversations in a way that appeals to your employees, but it will also help employees work better with one another.


2. Build a Relationship

It’s stressful to initiate a conversation with an employee about their performance, progress, or mistakes when you don’t have a relationship built and a foundation of trust.

By hosting weekly one-on-one meetings, you can get to know your employees as people, build a working relationship, and practice different communication styles and techniques to see which they respond best. Then, when the time comes for a difficult conversation, you will have an idea of how to approach the situation, be able to prepare for their reaction, and draw upon your trusting relationship. The rapport and trust you have built until that point should help alleviate some stress and defensiveness that any difficult conversation is bound to cause.


3. Give Yourself Time to Prepare

Given the discomfort you feel as a non-confrontational leader, you might be tempted to rush into a difficult conversation in hopes of “getting it over with.” As one HBR author pointed out though, “Chances are your counterpart [will] notice the signs of stress — your face turning red, the pace of your speech speeding up — and, because of mirror neurons that cause us to “catch” the emotions of another person, your colleague is likely to start feeling the same way. Before you know it, the conversation has derailed, and the conflict intensifies.”

To avoid this and ensure the desired outcome of the conversation is achieved, it’s best to take some time to collect your thoughts, get your emotions under control, and calm your nerves. Then, pull together the facts that will support your point so you do not rely on hearsay or fall into the trap of making hyperbolic statements like, “You always…” or “You never…” By doing this, you will approach the conversation in a more rational frame of mind, which will be good for everyone involved.


4. Be Empathetic and Make a Point to Listen

A surefire way to make a difficult conversation go badly is to come out of the gates placing blame and pointing fingers, as it will quickly put employees on the defensive. Instead, try taking a more empathetic approach (where it’s appropriate). First, make a point to see the problem through your employee's eyes and let them share their perspective. Then, when they do, really listen to and consider what they have to say. According to Koa Foundations, doing this “helps us relate to others, informs our own emotional awareness. helps us to regulate our emotions, and promotes compassion which moves us to action.” All of which is imperative during a difficult conversation.


Conclusion: Learn How to Have Difficult Conversations with Niagara Institute

It can be a real challenge for non-confrontational leaders to have difficult conversations with their employees. Yet, it’s a crucial part of the job. Fortunately, you can gain the confidence and tools to have those conversations effectively, even if you’re non-confrontational, with the help of training and one-on-one coaching.

What Is Your Conflict Management Style? Take the Quiz to Find Out