Tough talk? Confront the problem, not the person

Jack and Mike had been college buddies, and now Jack had inherited his dad’s manufacturing business.

Feeling that the business had languished, Jack had some new ideas. He wanted to expand sales abroad, and Mike had the skills to carry out his vision. Jack brought his friend on board.

The two moved quickly to put Jack’s ideas in place. But in the interest of time, Mike overlooked managers who tried to explain how sales were integrated throughout the company.

Only at a meeting of senior managers did things come to a head. The most experienced manager offered the CEO his resignation and, with other managers, explained how ignored and insignificant they felt under Mike.

Instead of letting Mike speak or backing him up, Jack humiliated him in front of everyone and again in private at the end of the day.

How to reverse such a bad situation? Three-way respect:

1. Respect yourself: Jack needs to understand that he doesn’t have to confront Mike. He can confront the situation.

2. Respect your colleague: Jack must not confuse respect with deference. He can show respect for his top gun without kowtowing to him or letting him run wild. Even at this late date, Jack can salvage the situation.

3. Respect the problem: Avoidance gets you nowhere. Jack and Mike both need to strategize about how they can remain friends with neither deferring to the other. They probably can find a way to keep both Mike and their most experienced manager on the team.

The solution: Mike needs to accept responsibility for alienating the staff and extend an olive branch to both the managers and Jack.

Jack needs to accept responsibility for keeping the company on track. If he wants to preserve their friendship, he can’t hang Mike out to dry.

— Adapted from Failure to Communicate, Holly Weeks, Harvard Business Press.