having difficult conversations

They are out there . . . the difficult conversations at work we are avoiding. We can identify them. We know we should probably have them. We logic our way out of having them and find “good and solid” excuses. Any of these sound familiar?

  • Now is not the right time
  • We have too many important projects to work on to deal with this now
  • Better timing is after this upcoming deadline
  • I’m too busy for this today
  • Let’s find a time that works for both of us
  • We were just overly emotional in that conversation – it is probably fine now
  • I’m sure they knew what I meant and how valuable they are to the team

No One is Excited about Having Difficult Conversations

But it’s there . . . in our body . . . we can feel it when we think about the person and the tough conversation. We feel it in the pit of our stomach or somewhere else in our body. It is simmering below the surface. We ignore it. We believe it’s contained . . . until it isn’t!

Rarely is someone excited about having tough conversations where we are unsure about the outcome.

Rarely are we excited about having difficult conversations where we are vulnerable or have to say sorry.

Rarely are we excited about having hard conversations that we know will lead to some really tough decisions.

Avoiding Tough Conversations Often Makes It Worse

If things can stay status quo, even though they aren’t great, isn’t that okay? You probably know the answer, deep down. Those situations tend to fester, regardless of the type:

  • an interpersonal conflict
  • a realization that someone might be in the wrong role
  • a collaboration that needs to end
  • feelings of hurt and disrespect between manager and employee
  • a relationship in your personal or professional life that isn’t serving you anymore
  • realizing that your job/organization is no longer the right place for you

Having difficult conversations at work, at this point, won’t be easy. I’m not going to pretend that I love these conversations or that I’m always first in line to have them. My optimism has allowed me in the past to cross my fingers, push those conversations aside and hope it will all work out for the best. And let’s be honest, here. It was part optimism on my part and a strong dose of fear.

The Fallout Can be Several Times Greater

I’ve learned that not having tough conversations, doesn’t make the situation go away.

Instead it becomes bigger.

The implications become greater to the people and the organization.

The fallout can be much larger than anyone wanted.

The time spent dealing with it when it finally can no longer be ignored is several times greater as if we would have dealt with it early. I am sure you can think of many examples when having difficult conversations earlier with an individual would have led to much better results. I can think of many. And yet, even when we know the results will be better, we actively try to avoid the discomfort.

Plan Your Hard Conversations

So I ask you now: What are those difficult conversations you are avoiding? Really reflect on this question.

Now, make a plan and envision yourself having tough conversations. Make sure you are in a solid emotional place before having hard conversations. For each one, get clear on the purpose of the conversation.

  • What is important about having the conversation?
  • What information are you hoping to get out of the conversation?
  • What messages do you need to be clear about this conversation?
  • How will you ensure the conversation is both honest and respectful?
  • What outcome are you hoping to achieve?

Having honest, tough conversations can be one of the hardest aspects of being a leader, of being a human. They are also a necessary part of being a leader and a human. And you won’t do it perfectly. You will likely mess up a bit. So let’s get that out of the way. You will also learn from those mistakes and be better the next time. Short-term pain can – and often does – make things better in the long run.