top of page

...But You Like Confrontation!

Two cartoon characters shouting at each other

“But I’m not like that, I don’t like confrontation”.

I hear this phrase, or variations of it, a lot when dealing with managers, or people leaders, and it gives me the sh*ts. It absolutely makes me furious. Especially when it’s followed by the patronizing follow up comment “not like you, you don’t mind it”.

Why does this annoy me? Because it’s a total cop out.

Personally, I don’t actually think anyone really “likes” confrontation. Nor do people generally look forward to it. There are exceptions, of course, but I don’t think I actually know anyone who looks forward to conflict or confrontation.

To suggestions that I don’t mind confrontation or potentially enjoy it… absolutely not. I will often try to find any possible way to avoid confrontation that take it on. I find no joy in it – in fact I generally am up most of the night before I know I have to confront someone on an issue, because I genuinely find the experience unpleasant, and in many ways, terrifying.

I suppose the reason why the perception is I ‘don’t mind it’ is because I accept the reality that part of the role of being a leader is that I don’t get the option of picking and choosing which parts of the gig I want and which parts I don’t. And experience has also taught me that if you don’t confront an issue when it arises, it comes back to haunt you. With interest.

We see it all the time. A person doesn’t perform, or behaves poorly, but because we ‘don’t want conflict’ we avoid the issue and pretend it doesn’t exist, or talk about it but don’t address it with the person. Then what happens? The problem grows, festers and breeds and then it becomes a big issue and then confronting it actually becomes difficult – and almost definitely the response when it gets raised then is “but you’ve never called me on it before so I thought it was ok, why is it now not ok”.

I’m not infallible, absolutely not, and many a time I’ve chosen what I thought was the easy option of not confronting an issue or engaging in conflict because “it’s easier to ignore it… and hopefully it will go away”. The great irony in that is that the opposite holds true. Ignoring it just allows the issue to breed and grow and sooner or later I’m going to have to deal with it. By which time it could well be an epic of Ben Hur proportions.

Which is exactly why I sometimes get told I “don’t mind” conflict.

I do actually believe that whether or not you “mind it” is irrelevant. One of the biggest errors I observe among leaders is the desire to gain status and privilege - being a leader is incredible in that you get the opportunity to help people and effect change – often you get to lift people up and it’s very rewarding in that regard. But as Aunt May says in Spiderman, “with awesome power comes awesome responsibility”, and as a leader you are responsible not just for the celebrations and good times, but for making the tough decisions.

I was told by a wise man that if you truly are a leader, you make the right decisions when you have to, to the best of your ability. Even if it is at a cost to yourself. Especially if it is at a cost to yourself.

I’ve seen leaders take the easy option – in today’s world it happens all to regularly. The minute things get testy they exit stage left. That’s not leadership. You can’t have your cake and eat it. Leaders who crave popularity and adulation over and above doing the right thing don't end up being the most effective. Yes, everyone wants to be liked but you cannot realistically expect to lead and still win a popularity vote.

This isn’t to say you need to be unpopular and the object of ill feeling – there are ways to make tough decisions without disenfranchising people – but in my experience, the surest way to lose the changing room (to use a sporting analogy) is to avoid the conflict and the unpopular decisions.

You don’t have to like it. In fact I’d go so far as to say you shouldn’t ‘like’ it. But just because you don’t like flossing your teeth isn’t a reason to not, right?

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page