Diplomatic Confrontation: A Form of Caring

By Abe Wagner

People resist confrontations because of the negative imagery and/or dialogue we experience in our heads when we think about it. Think about someone you should have confronted and haven’t. You know what I mean.

If you’re a parent and your offspring breaks agreements or discounts others, should you tell them about it? “Of course,” you say. Why? Because you care about them.


That’s why I like the term “Carefrontation.” There’s good reason for you to think about the need for diplomatic confrontation in this same way. It’s a form of caring. You do it because you’d like them to understand or to change some unpleasant behavior.

If you allow others to mistreat someone or something, or to do an ineffective job while you say nothing, then you are part of the problem. And, while this idea is easy to understand intellectually, it’s a bit harder to get it “in our gut.”

Carefronting techniques are those that invite listening instead of hurt feelings and/or defensiveness. When carefronting, the most important element is to ask and answer a simple question: “What’s my purpose?”

The poet William Blake once wrote, “A truth told with bad intent is worse than any lie you can invent.” When you know your purpose, you’re more likely to say the appropriate thing.

Rapport and Positive Regard

Another important element of carefronting is to establish rapport briefly before confronting. This helps keep the confrontation on a personal and professional level, and increases the chances of two people actually getting through to each other.

Lastly, it’s important to set the stage as part of the carefronting procedure. You’ve been setting the stage all your life, right? Remember when you wanted a cookie from your mother? You said the right things and cast the right hints to invite her to give you one. You were setting the stage.

A great example of positive stage setting involves presuming the person had a virtuous motive. “George, I know you wanted to do what was best for the department. I just wish you would have discussed it with me first.” That shows George you’re coming from a place of respect, and not just on the attack.

Suffice it to say, carefronting doesn’t work without complimenting the person when it’s warranted. At other times, it’s helpful simply to let your team members know by your actions and words that you care about them. “Good to see you today,” for example, or:

  • “I heard your husband wasn’t well. How’s he feeling?”
  • “I’d like to get your opinion on this problem.”
  • “Happy birthday to you!”

People greatly benefit from all three — compliments, unconditional positive regard, and carefrontation. Use this tactic to make your team confrontations more open and less confrontational.

Abe Wagner has been a Vistage resource speaker for three decades, and has given seminars and convention keynotes in 35 countries and 48 states. He is the author of The Transactional Manager and Say It Straight or You’ll show it Crooked.
Originally published: Jan 18, 2012

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