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3 Questions to Ask Before Confronting a Difficult Board Member (or Staff or Client)

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Three things in life are certain: death, taxes and conflict.

Whether a board member not following through, a staff member not doing his or her job, or a difficult client, you need to decide whether to live with the offending behavior (and offender) or confront it.

We have all been there. I certainly have! Not long ago, I worked with a micromanager. I could do my assigned work easily and without supervision yet this person constantly checked up on my progress. Drove me nuts! I complained to my husband who told me to talk to the person. I decided that the energy needed to confront the issue exceeded the potential “damage” of not confronting it (basically my annoyance). And I turned it into a game with myself! “How long will it take before this person asks me if I did this task?”!

How did I arrive at this decision? I asked myself three questions:

1. What do I have to lose if I confront the person?

Confrontation does not come without risk. Might he or she quit? Become upset with you? Fire you? Determine the worst case scenario then ask yourself the importance or impact of each outcome on you and your organization. Sometimes confronting an issue – even if it sacrifices a relationship – is the better result for the organization – or for you personally. Do you really want to work with a destructive person? For me, the worst case scenario had little impact on me or the organization. I might have lost an opportunity to work on a project, but that would not have ended my world. From this perspective, I had little to lose by confronting the person. But I still decided not to based on my answers to the next question.

2. What do I have to lose if the offending behavior continues?

Ask yourself if the behavior threatens the integrity of the organization or your authority. If so, confront it. If it is an annoyance (like my micromanager), difference of opinion or different way of reaching the same result, then you might want to just let it go. But if you decide to ignore it, then you also have to let it go. But, don’t hold a silent grudge against the person for something you never told them bothered you. My micromanager continued to micromanage because I never said anything but I decided I could live with that.

3. Do I have more to lose if I confront the person or let it go?

Balance your answers to the above questions, perhaps by creating a chart that lists the advantages and disadvantages of “confront” and “let it go.” Timing may enter into your decision calculus. Is the client ending his or her time with you? Board member’s term about the end (and behavior not broadly impacting the organization or the other board members)? Time may take care of your problem without requiring that you expend a lot of your energy confronting it. But, if these behaviors feed or create a negative culture, you have to confront it.

These questions should not become an excuse to ignore an issue that you need to confront. Instead, recognize that not every issue requires a full blown conflict or confrontation. We have all worked with that person who turns the smallest infraction into World War III. You do not want to do that. Instead, balance the potential impact of confronting the problem head on and letting it go.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to Living Proof Exhibit.

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