Transformative Leaders Confront With Care
Discover How the S.P.A.R.K. Acronym Can Help You
When you hear the word “confront”…what type of reaction do you have?
- Have you ever avoided conflict?
- Maybe you’ve felt uneasy about a conversation that you know you should have which involves giving someone feedback?
- Perhaps you’ve felt nervous about telling someone that they impacted you negatively?
- Maybe you haven’t wanted to say the wrong thing, so you chose to keep things positive and polite?
Here’s the thing: you’re not alone.
I am a big believer that we are products of our environment–until we know or learn otherwise.
I grew up in Texas, and–whether I like it or not–I was conditioned to avoid conflict, avoid topics that create tension, and to basically “put on a happy face” rather than express my authentic feelings when they weren’t positive.
The people I saw in positions of leadership around me either: a) came across very polished, put together, and positive, OR b) engaged in unproductive communication or had aggressive outbursts that were so negative that everyone walked away feeling unheard and possibly misunderstood.
So, I avoided conflict because I had no positive exposure to productive conversations that confronted someone’s behavior.
I brushed things under the rug and learned not to “ruffle feathers” in conversations.
Especially not in group settings.
I was so practiced at pretending everything was OK that it impacted my ability to speak my truth.
I had no practice giving critiques or feedback in a caring way, or offering anything other than praise.
I wasn’t consciously avoiding conflict. I just didn’t know any other way.
It wasn’t until I took on a leadership role that everything changed. I realized I didn’t have the muscle to offer constructive criticism to my staff, and that was problematic.
My 27 years of NOT confronting created layers of resistance and suppressed feelings, making it difficult to know where to start.
I only became more comfortable with conflict in the past 5 years. It took me believing so deeply in my mission, to interrupt patterns impacting marginalized communities in harmful ways, and seeing what was at stake if I didn’t speak up.
So, in my six years leading and facilitating conversations about racial equity, I’ve learned that, when I advocate for what’s right, and I confront with care, powerful shifts ignite.
When I speak up and carefully confront the behaviors (not the people) that have had a negative impact on me, I see that my perspective offers valuable information for the person I’m supporting.
Just as two puzzle pieces fit together, confronting with care can be incredibly helpful and supportive, when it’s done well.
Now, let’s get back to you…
Think about a time when someone gave you constructive feedback that really helped you grow and learn as a leader…
What was it about the WAY they shared feedback with you that impacted you?
Some important things to note:
When You Need to Confront with Care:
- When you can no longer tolerate things, especially when they are harming others
- When you see patterns causing inequities or injustices for some groups of people- if we don’t speak up we are perpetuating the very thing that compromises our values.
- When you hear yourself blaming / judging / or saying these types of things about people you respect and care about: “ I wish they would change… “I wish they would stop saying that… or ”I can’t stand it when they say…”
Now, I want to be clear. Confronting is different than confrontation.
My definition of confronting with care: raising awareness for someone you care about by showing them the gap between their intention and the impact or experience you’re having which is at odd with their intentions.
I’ll note that confronting conversations are ideal one-on-one, not whole-group.
However, there are instances (ie: if we’ll never see the person again, if the comment is so egregious it must be addressed, etc.) that where we have no other option.
When someone’s words/behaviors have really impacted me negatively, it’s time for me to think:
If I don’t, I can’t keep blaming them. It is our responsibility to do something when we see or feel injustice.
We are doing a disservice to our community when we avoid topics that impact our values.
Back to you…
- What is a conversation you know you need to have?
- What’s a pattern you want to interrupt?
- Has someone you love and respect said something about another group that upset you?
I don’t need to remind you that some phrases show support and others cause harm. Some questions shut people down and others open up possibilities (*see below*).
I often set the intention to show up with grace. To me, that means showing empathy, genuine respect, and to be free of distress. I don’t have to agree with all that’s said, but I can acknowledge the other person’s experience and respect their truth as their truth.
I can’t force anyone to listen or change. I do my best to check my ego at the door and manage my own emotional triggers. Then, I choose my words, staying tethered to my intentions AND listening to my intuition. Being authentic and speaking from my heart is key.
*Here are some phrases and questions that might be helpful to have in your back pocket*
When you don’t agree:
- When you said____ it really impacted me.
- Through my eyes, my experiences have led me to believe____
- Are you open to hearing another perspective?
When you’re curious and genuinely open to hearing a different perspective:
- Can you share more about why this is ___ for you?
- Tell me how you understand things…
- I hear your concern about____.
- What I heard you say was____. Did I get that right?
When the tension is taking over (and you are triggered):
Pause and breathe first. Always.
- I care about you and our relationship, and I don’t want this to sever things. Let’s take a pause.
- I value ____ about our relationship and believe it’s possible to respect our differences.
- I need to think about that more…
PHRASES & BEHAVIORS TO AVOID (that almost always lead to accusations/blame/judgment)
- Yes, but… (always go with “yes, AND”)
- You’re wrong / I don’t believe you / You will never understand.
- You’re not listening.
- Exaggerated movements (hands in the air, overly vocal sighs, slamming doors, eye rolls, throwing anything, pounding table) or interrupting
These offerings are not the only ideas out there. Millions of specialists have billions of ideas out there. These tips are just my “tried-and-true” strategies.
Also, the S.P.A.R.K. acronym helps a great deal.
Here are some S.P.A.R.K. Reminders/ Questions for your consideration and support:
SHOW UP AUTHENTICALLY & WITH LOVE
Showing up with authenticity and love, you might say…
PAUSE. Prepare, Set intentions, and Listen.
Pause: don’t jump to conclusions or preconceived notions.
Breathe, what do you really really want from this conversation?
People can be so plugged-in a reactive that we are not actually pausing and checking in with ourselves for intention- what do you want to walk away feeling? Clarity or positive around?
Then and imagine that happening, this is a brain visualization exercise. Prime your brain in a positive way. What do you really want? Set those intentions, set them for yourself, and get ready to listen to the other person.
Food for thought:
AFFIRM & ASK, DON’T ASSUME.
Ask Don’t Assume: not about attacks, or statements, it is about asking the right question to get to the outcome you are trying to get to. Questions are my best friend, and we misuse them so much with default questions inside of us (hurts me). What question will allow me to better understand their perspective?
Listen. Affirm their experience before asking. I hear you. I see you. I understand where you are coming from.
You are open and listening. You are drawing out what their biggest frustrations are so you can have the outcome that you want.
Here are some more statements:
Respect multiple perspectives
Here are some more statements / questions to consider using:
Kindly expect some tension
Here are some more tools for your toolkit:
When you use the SPARK acronym your experience is intentionally more predictable, authentic, and positive.
Taking a stand, confronting with care, and letting your moral and ethical compass guide you is transformative leadership.
There is not a single “right way” to do any of this work.
Mistakes will be made. You may fumble, mumble, and even bumble around, but roll up your sleeves and take the risk. It’s worth it.
As the mentor of a friend of mine always says, “Confidence comes from evidence.”
You’ll only get better at confronting with care with practice.
Finally, it need be noted that there are moments when you should pause and not engage at all. Use your critical judgment and always put your safety first. I’m not a therapist or a counselor. I’m offering this lens to be supportive to those who need it. Your best network is your support system, so lean on the people you love.
This blog is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my S.P.A.R.K. Leadership content. I have developed a whole body of work just on this topic, so take it with a grain of salt. My content has been informed by learning about Cognitive Coaching as well as my work at the National Equity Project, and for those two resources I attribute much gratitude and impact.
Being a visionary, adaptive leader during these times is not for the faint of heart.
There’s no silver-bullet for lasting transformation.
If you’re curious to learn more, S.P.A.R.K. Leadership development experiences involve:
- Acknowledging and accepting unproductive mindsets and old patterns of behavior, raising awareness of blind-spots and biases that impact one’s leadership
- Interrupting those patterns by setting intentions and taking small steps to shift habits
- Embracing the unique strengths and assets that each leader has, which in turn helps them lead authentically with intentionality, conviction, and confidence.
- Increasing comfort navigating the transitions, tensions, and complexities of their organization.
And, tremendous results and experiences are on the other side of each development opportunity.
So, what’s your learning edge? How would you describe your Leadership S.P.A.R.K.?
I’d love to hear from you. Comment below and share what resonates the most.
Curious to learn more?
- Download my new S.P.A.R.K. Leadership Self-Assessment here
- Connect for virtual coffee with Rachel here
S.P.A.R.K. was founded in 2016 by Rachel Rosen, a seasoned facilitator, racial equity leadership coach, and LGBTQ advocate. S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions, and she is on a mission to bring more empathy to the world, one conversation at a time. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. S.P.A.R.K. offers experiences that support leaders and teams to unleash their potential to facilitate powerful experiences, collaborate, and build trust.