Before & After : Confronting Public Feedback

When I took the Crucial Confrontations course at the end of September, my intent was to improve my conflict resolution facilitation skills. Within a few weeks of completing the course, I helped a key member of an organization get unstuck, see another story, and take a path to action that avoided a potential relationship blow-up. The added tools in my utility belt were a good fit. However, I really wasn’t expecting to have to call on them for myself since my personal and business relationships were pretty solid. True, I did have a mild case of masking to deal with, but I felt fairly good about my ability to carry on meaningful and important conversations. Maybe I was a little too smug about my skills, because they were soon put to the test.

November rolled around and I was leading a meeting to explore a possible process change. Before the meeting started, one of the directors pushed one of my hot buttons. He began to challenge, no denigrate, the validity and effectiveness of an initiative I was championing. The atmosphere went hostile in a moment. Before I knew it, my emotions went into hyper drive. I could literally feel the blood leaving the reasoning part of my brain. Others in the room watched in amazement (some with horror) as they saw that I was visibly agitated. Some meeting attendees later told me they thought, “What is going to happen next?”

At the same time, it was like I was having an out-of-body experience. I began to think about the steps towards building a shared meaning even though I was steaming. The director was clearly out of line; nevertheless, I didn’t want to blow-up and make things worse. I was tempted to mask and go silent, stewing in my anger. So, I forced myself to think about some of the class exercises (it’s amazing how quick the mind can work). I put together my first sentence in response: “This adversarial behavior is not helping our meeting.” Maybe this wasn’t the best choice of words, however, calling things as they were did stop him in his tracks. I regained composure, asked to set up a separate meeting with him later to discuss his concerns, and then continued with the meeting. There was still a little tension left, but not near what it could have been. Several attendees came to me in private and thanked me for standing up. I’m still working things out with the director; however, our conversations are much more honest and I think he has a new found respect for me. The Crucial Confrontations approach really does work !
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