Transformative Leaders Confront With Care

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?

How about…

  • 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.

Image result for art of conversation

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.

Image result for gap

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:


  • First consider: How can you show up authentically and with love? When I say “love,” I mean imagine that the person across from you could be your family. To love is to show respect and to assume positive intent.
Showing up with authenticity and love, you might say…
  • Hey, I have a few things I’d like to check in around.
  • Hey, you know we both care about____, and I’ve been thinking a lot about…
  • Would you be open to talking about ____?


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:
  • Reflect before: what do you really want out of the conversation?
  • What are a few positive things you want to share at the beginning and end?
  • How can you ground this conversation in your common values / mission / what you care about?



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.  

  • For Example: Someone makes a generalization about a group of people: “Millennials are always on their phone, they aren’t good listeners and are way more distracted than our generation.”
  • My response: That’s interesting. I have a different experience. I’d love to hear more. Can you share more about what that’s looked like in your context?”
Here are some more statements:
  • “I can sense you are really frustrated about this. That is understandable, if I was feeling ____, I might feel that way too.”
  • I know we both care about _____. Can we talk more about how we’re experiencing something?
  • I hear what you’re saying. I see this situation differently: ___.
  • It sounds as though you’re feeling very frustrated, which is understandable.
  • Are you open to talking about this more?
  • Can you tell more about what you mean by ___ when you say it?


Respect multiple perspectives

  • Respect where the other person is at, don’t tell them they are wrong. Reflect back what you heard first. The root of the word means to “see” someone, “again and again.”
  • Part 2 of Millennial Example: Let’s say the person reacts with certainty, (“I know it’s true. They’re ALL that way.”) 
  • I say “well I have a different experience. I work with a lot of millennials, and I find them to be quite inquisitive. Who do you consider to be a millennial? What experiences have you had?”
  • I then share my experience that counters theirs but in a way that shares a different perspective. They say “Ok, I guess I’m open.” and you say, “could you see why I think differently than you with my experience?


Here are some more statements / questions to consider using:
  • I see how you could think___.
  • I never thought of it from that angle. I hear you.
  • May I share a different perspective?
  • Can I share an observation? Here’s something I’ve noticed: ___.


Kindly expect some tension

  • If this person is someone you really love and care about, then this may not be the first time you’ve experienced a feeling like this…and it may not be the last.
  • Sharing un-positive feelings isn’t always easy. Telling someone the impact of their language / behaviors isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of unease or anxiety to surface.
  • You have to create space for them to process, and silence isn’t always easy.
  • Pausing, and letting them sit with it can cause tension. There may not be resolution (right/wrong). Conversation doesn’t have to end perfectly, you just need to speak your truth and be heard.
  • Really allow yourself to get vulnerable, it is OK to be emotional. You can say, “can we come back to this? I want to hear from you how this conversation sat with you.”  
  • Their reaction may be uneasy or uncomfortable too–that’s okay. It’s not your job to make them feel better.
  • Also, one conversation won’t change behaviors or shift mindsets forever. So prepare to have to confront with care again.
  • Millennial Example, Part 3: “Your intentions were positive, but you were making a generalization about a whole group of people, and I am struggling with that, because I have had a completely different experience.”


Here are some more tools for your toolkit:
  • Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate your honesty.
  • To be honest, here’s a disconnect I’m seeing…
  • It seems there’s a gap between your intentions and my experience.
  • I experience…(I statements are key)
  • We may not see eye-to-eye, but I’m glad we both listened to each other.
  • Let’s plan on looping back and coming back to this.

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?

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.

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