Supportive Comfrontaion and Feedback: Finding out Reasons People Do What they Do.

“The real hell of life is that everyone has his reasons for the way they behave.” Jean Renior 
Regular, specific and face-to-face caring feedback can create a climate of openness for people and reduce arguments and misunderstandings. As a leader-coach, it is your responsibility to hire the best person and then support them in achieving organization tasks and personal goals for reaching their potential. If your hire fails in their job you own some of the responsibility for that failure.  Therefore, one of your critical responsibilities is as a developer of people. A readiness to offer timely and honest feedback makes all the difference to your employees. Rather than being taken as a negative, such input shows concern for the development of each individual. This works for the management team, as well. While at times the focus needs to be on the gap between what is expected and what you are doing wrong, the best feedback focuses on the gap between what you are doing well and what you can be doing even better. David Bradford and Dr. Cohen in their book Power Up describe an approach to difficult conversations and feedback interventions through a process called Supportive Confrontation. I have found the book  outstanding and well worth your time  since I have often posted about the conversational tool of Caring Confrontation. Dr. Bradford and his associates outline 4 basic approaches that make-up Supportive Confrontation and I have added a 5th approach from my experiences.
5 Step Approach:
1: Specific and clear feedback—“State in concrete and clear ways that the other person’s behavior is having a negative effect on you.”

You provide feedback and describe to the other person the barriers and annoying behavior that are having a negative impact on you.  This approach is not easy to provide because of the fear that doing this will jeopardize the relationship or that the other cares about what we have to say. These type of assumptions make the confrontation more difficult because it isn’t made on solid evidence but on us “making stuff up” this can lead to a defensive reactions. In giving feedback of this type we may feel vulnerable which often causes an uncomfortable climate for discussing issues between us.  But I’d argue that what we fantasize to be true isn’t necessarily so–it’s our truth. Many people really do not have awareness or insight that they’re causing problems, and pointing out these feelings and observations can be a wake-up call. When confronted in a caring and support way many may choose to the information with more interest of about our perceptions and be motivated to work on changing their behavior. The technique for getting the other person’s attention without becoming defensive is to calmly, concisely and directly present the observations without judgment.  However, as Bradford and Allen write, “This approach works only if [your] reactions cause [the other person] to want to change.  But something else is needed if [the other person] is defensive, and tells [you], ‘That is your problem, not mine,’ or even worse, labels [you] as weak or over-sensitive.” So on to…

2:  Is this working for them–“Your behavior is not meeting your apparent goals or intentions.”

Just as people are often unaware of how their behavior affects us, they can be equally unaware of how their behavior affects their ability to achieve their goals or how it deviates from their stated intentions.  We observe others’ self-defeating behaviors or inconsistencies and imagine that they’re irrational or hypocritical, but the truth is they simply may not have the data that we have by virtue of our outside perspective.

If someone’s not going to be motivated to change because of their impact on you, perhaps they’ll be motivated by their impact on themselves.  The key here is linkage, a term that comes up frequently in Bradford and Cohen’s work.  They regularly emphasize the importance of leaders linking team members’ personal goals to the goals of the larger group, and here they talk about linking your goal (i.e. getting the other person to change) to their goals, whatever they may be.  But what if their goals are being met, despite (or even because of) their behavior?  How can you induce a desire to change then?

3. “Your behavior may meet your goals, and still be very costly to you and in the end can decrease your likability and connection with others .”

This is another type of blind spot–a person’s inability to see what is being lost in their efforts to achieve their goals.  Some people are so focused on reaching the finish line that they just can’t see how many problems they’re creating while running the race.  Again, sharing data that you have from an outside perspective about the costs of their behavior can provide a powerful motive for change.

This can be a variation on Approach 1, in which you don’t simply describe the negative impact of other person’s behavior on you but show how it affects them as well.  If in Approach 1 you’d say, “Your behavior is really bothering me,” in Approach 3 you’d add, “…and as a result, I’m a lot less motivated to support and help you succeed.”

4) “In what ways am I contributing to the problem of poor communication between us.?”

The first three approaches in Bradford and Cohen’s framework are presented almost as sequential alternatives: If Approach 1 won’t work, try Approach 2, and then move on to Approach 3.  But I don’t believe that Approach 4 should be regarded as the final step in this sequence, the last resort if all else fails.  Rather, it’s a tool that can be used to complement all the other approaches at any stage of the process.  And given that most of our working relationships are systems in which our reactions to the other person’s behavior affect and modify that behavior in turn, it’s likely that we are part of the problem at some level. This approach needs to come from the truth as you experience and see it. Don’t use this approach as a way to fool or try to manipulate others.  If you’re completely confident that you’re not part of the problem, don’t ask this question just to seem nicer or genuine or to manipulate the other person. The consequences of not making a genuine attempt to see your part in the difficult situation will be that the other person will see through your false persona and this will only increase their view of you as a person not to be trusted because your phony.  And yet I have come to realize that when I’m having a problem or conflict with another person, it’s pretty unusual to not have some ownership and responsibility for some of the difficulty and trouble we are experiencing.

5. Use a positive Pygmalion to encourage the art of possibility. Catch people doing things right and reinforce it ignoring the negative behavior. Positive reinforcement and high expectations can sometimes change the other person’s behavior without a direct confrontation. We have enshrined failure and weaknesses by sending negative messages and telling under-achievers that they are a loser because they got an F and the over-riding message from getting F’s is your dumb. Your goal in using this technique is to provide hope and support the other person’s desire for improvement. 


My take away from this material is to not make assumptions about another person’s intentions or motives because they enviable lead you to the wrong conclusions. Make you observations and state how their behavior affects you and then ask if the other person is aware of this and how it is working for them. We will never know what they are thinking unless we confront the situation from a more empathic and understanding way. Most people will be open to share their view of the world , if we are willing to listen and not try to force them to see it our way.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s