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Published: August 1, 2019

Companies and teams who embrace constructive confrontation are more likely to find success because they use open and honest exchanges of views in ‘safe’ forums to identify and build the case for game-changing opportunities. In this white paper, uncover the five crucial elements that make confrontation work and the ground rules for successful confrontation.

Lack of Conversation is Uncompetitive

Collaboration has, in recent years, proven a powerful tool for companies throughout the supply chain to work together to lift efficiencies and competitiveness. But as companies look to drive their own growth and deal with their own issues internally, some have turned away from partnership, and relationships have become strained, adversarial, and short term in their approach. Retailers and suppliers may actually compromise opportunities to work together to address issues that affect them both. In fact, research indicates that failing to work with others to find the potential in situations leads companies to become uncompetitive. By acting this way, they impede advancement, growth and trust.

That’s where confrontation comes in.

Rethinking Confrontation

The very suggestion may seem counterintuitive because confrontation is viewed by many as the antithesis of collaboration. Smart companies however, are finding that a new way of addressing problems – constructive confrontation – is a powerful force for good: a way of bringing issues and frustrations to a head that re-sets conventional thinking, interrupts complacency and challenges everyone to look for the best outcome in every situation through lively and effective debate.

In constructive confrontation situations, groups of people come together to exchange differing views to arrive at a consensus on how to move forward. Far from stifling collaboration, companies and teams who embrace constructive confrontation are more likely to find success because they use open and honest exchanges of views in ‘safe’ forums to identify and build the case for game-changing opportunities. This confrontational approach raises interest, brings people closer, and sharpens the quality of thinking, leading to long term gains, better partnerships, and original solutions. Most importantly, it allows what may have gone unsaid to be stated and considered. People are heard; relationships are strengthened.

The Five Things That Make Confrontation Work

For any confrontation to succeed, there are five crucial elements:

  • An Instigator – the person driving the confrontation. Their role is to set the scene and expectations. They are the catalyst.
  • The Agitator(s) – the person(s) who come together to make a confrontation happen. They are the stakeholders, the arguers, the people with views and perhaps ‘skin in the game’.
  • A Setting – every confrontation takes place in an environment that everyone is welcome and where they are committed to achieving a positive outcome.
  • A Roadmap – a confrontation must go somewhere, and it must give people the time to express their current position and make the transition to another position. Without structure and the right time allocation, a confrontation risks becoming a loop.
  • An Outcome – every confrontation must arrive at a position on the key issue being discussed. Without an outcome, confrontation is just an argument. It doesn’t generate meaningful change.

Ground Rules for Success

Constructive confrontation is underpinned by seven principles that guide what happens and ensures people are heard, new opinions are socialised, assumptions are challenged and participants feel respected, valued and in control.

If you’re the instigator, start by identifying the issue at hand and why it has reached the point where it is now ‘unacceptable.’ This is the circuit-breaker. It provokes people to re-examine an assumption. It asks them to examine their own viewpoint and to articulate that with gusto. It turns all the energy in the room into a focus on the matter that must be resolved.

Now let the confrontation begin. But ask everyone to stick to the rules:

  • Be Transparent: Openly share your views and expectations, and set out the basis for why you believe what you do honestly. If you have evidence, provide it. If you don’t, state that too.
  • Communicate Clearly: Focus on facts and behaviors, not people. Keep the issue front and center. Talk about why things are the way they are as well as what shows up and how that affects you and others.
  • Practice The Art of Give and Take: But stand by your position. Advocate for what you believe in but stay open-minded enough to identify potential barriers and offer alternative approaches. Request feedback and seek to understand others’ requirements. Above all, actively listen.
  • Address Conflict Openly and Respectfully: Challenge the status quo; ask the difficult questions; look for the opportunities; be curious.
  • Agree On A Solution: Come to an answer that is ambitious, that addresses the key concern and that is attainable.
  • Define Next Steps: Create measurable goals to manage progress that are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) and make sure they are instigated, referred to and acted on.
  • Check Progress: Follow through on commitments, keep the matter front-of-mind for those involved; take opportunities to socialize ideas, widen take-up and motivate others to act.

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