A Coaching Power Tool By Donna Burdge, Executive Coach, UNITED STATES
Understanding Your Communication Style: Passivity vs. Confrontation
If you avoid conflict to keep peace you start a war within yourself~Anonymous
Silence is Worse; All truths that are kept silent become poisonous~Fredrich Nietzsche
Passivity is corrosive to the soul; it feeds on feelings of integrity and pride, and it can be as tempting as a drug~Caroline Knapp
Between an uncontrolled escalation and passivity there is a demanding road of responsibility we must follow~Dominique de Villepin
I have a client – a female in her mid-20s, a mother of two children under the age of 5. She recently earned her GED via an online course offered at a local community college.
For the sake of anonymity, I will call her Josie.
Josie accepted a temporary assignment with a multinational company, working in the file room. For $12 per hour and without medical benefits, she was able to work independently, doing repetitious work, at her own pace, for 40 hours per week. Although she felt the job was beneath her abilities, she was happy to have a regular paycheck.
Flash forward 4 years: Josie is now a full-time, human resources manager with that same company only now she has benefits, earning upwards of $60k, and is responsible to manage one person. Josie had a quick career trajectory – she showed up, dressed the part, and was accommodating to her customers in short, a model employee. The local leadership team recognized her for her ability to meet deadlines, dependability, multi-tasking skills, cooperation, and team spirit among others. Josie appreciated the opportunities that came and the money that followed.
One big problem: Josie was not happy.
I met Josie when she was recommended to me by her manager at her behest of Josie. Josie was feeling down and unmotivated, fearing others would notice her lack of enthusiasm toward her job.
At this particular point in time, I was the global HR director of the same company but with limited coaching skills – only those that I had garnered from attending DDI (Development Dimensions International) coaching skills courses. I was a good HR practitioner but not a certified coach.
NOTE: It was at this time that I first considered becoming an ICA coach.
Over the course of several months, I came to understand why she came to me versus why I believed she was coming to me. Josie didn’t like human resources – in short, she did not find her job to be satisfying. In fact, she preferred IT (information technology) and was taking online courses to pursue a career in that field. Two very different roles require completely different behavioral preferences and competencies. For nearly 5 years, Josie was borrowing behavior in order to please those around her, and she was exhausted.
Josie was accepting what was happening to her without active response or restriction, which in turn signaled to those with whom she worked that she was satisfied with the career plan they had mapped out for her.
Josie was modeling passive behavior and while good intentions (doing a good job) were leading to unintended consequences (doing a job she loathed).
At our first meeting, we discussed her expectation of the coaching session and agreed to work towards her desired outcome. That goal was to remain with the company, confront her supervisor about this and ideally move into a compatible role all the while not offending those that have given her great recognition and promotions along the way.
Josie was raised to believe gratitude was best delivered by not speaking up but being in agreement and thankful for what was presented without question or resistance.
Passivity vs. Confrontation Definition
According to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary, the definition of passivity is:
acceptance of what happens, without active response or resistance.
“the perceived passivity of the populace is deceptive”
Josie was living her truth.
According to CollinsDictionary.com the definition of confrontation is:
- an act of confronting
- the state of being confronted
- a meeting of persons face to face
- an open conflict of opposing ideas, forces, etc
- a bringing together of ideas, themes, etc., for comparison
- Isn’t about fighting; it’s about being assertive.
- It’s not about creating drama; it’s about standing up for yourself.
- And sometimes, confrontation is a necessary tool to help you live fully, asserting yourself without being overly aggressive.
- If used well, confrontation helps you and your opponent get what you want—provided you can step up to the challenge.
Josie didn’t have to resign her position on the importance and value of passivity. What was needed was an understanding of the value confrontation would bring to help solve her situation in this circumstance and likely other situations in her life.
After we had the coaching agreement in place, we began scheduling regular bi-weekly sessions.
Josie acknowledged owning the situation due to her passive nature. By introducing her to my, Power Tool, Passivity vs. Confrontation I was able to share with her a way in which to flip her perspective about how to approach her manager by guiding her to explore her current thinking to a new way of thinking.
She spoke of her current state and the burdens that have come with not speaking up and her desired state of how she could unleash her potential if given the opportunity. Further, she could describe with clarity and energy the impact living in her desired state would have on her mental health and would help to ease the tension in her home and the downstream effect on her children and other loved ones. Being someone you aren’t is quite exhausting!
Over the course of many sessions, I partnered with my client to create a safe and supportive environment where she knew it was safe to speak freely.
I asked questions including:
- What does success look like for you?
- What is important about this right now?
- What will you have that you didn’t have?
- Given what you want to achieve what will be different for you?
- What is the cost to you if you do nothing different?
- What is the worst thing that can happen?
- Where might this show up in other parts of your life?
- What would have to fall away for you to embrace this new way?
- What do you need to address to let go?
Throughout our 6-month engagement, the client was able to move forward slowly at first but then with confidence and without guilt.
She created a “baby step” plan where she first confronted others with little relationship to her (a phone solicitor, a retail clerk, etc) where something about the interaction needed to be addressed and not merely accepted. From there, the stake was bigger. She confronted her sibling on a long-standing financial matter, then her mother regarding her concerns about her tobacco use. Finally, she made the giant step to address her manager about her career ambition.
I can proudly share with you that Josie is now the IT manager with the company she has been with for now 7 years.
Rosenberg, M. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. California: Puddledancer Press, 2015.
Regier, N. Conflict Without Casualties: A Field Guide for Leading With Compassionate
Accountability. California. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2017.
Newport, C. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. New York. Grand Central Publishing. 2016
How To Confront Without Being Confrontational