Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Coward's Confrontation: Leadership fail

I want to introduce you all to a term:

Cowards' Confrontation: a rule made in order to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation with an individual, which rule is either selectively relevant or selectively reinforced (or both).

So, for instance, a 15-person team exists of which only two people ever eat at their desks. One has a cold sandwich and carrot sticks, but the other brings tuna and shrimp freshly heated from the cafeteria's microwave oven.  The team has been bothered by the fragrance of the daily seafood and the residue left in the trash can.

The team (or a manager at the team's request) makes a rule that there will be no eating in the workspace.

Our sandwich-eater ignores the policy with impunity. After all, this person knows that the policy was about smelly seafood and doesn't apply to them. Nobody, team member or manager, says anything.

The seafood-eater notices the sandwich-eater's scofflaw behavior and returns to their desk with food one day. They are confronted with "you can't eat here; you know the policy."  This is upsetting because sandwich-eater has been eating at their desk. The seafood-eater now feels singled out.


"We're sorry," say the other team members, "if it were up to us it would be fine, but you know the rule."

This is the Cowards' Confrontation. Selectively-made, selective-enforced policies that allow people who are afraid of a confrontation to control the behavior of another without actually admitting to being upset or asking them to change.

When you are making team agreements or rules, beware. Don't be the coward cowering behind the Cowards' Confrontation.


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