Difficult Conversations, Why We Avoid Them and Why We Shouldn’t

Hi I’m Nicola from The People Mentor and in today’s podcast, I want to talk about why we avoid difficult conservations and the price we pay for trying to give them a swerve.

Think about the last difficult conversation you had. Did you have to speak to a team member about poor performance or behaviour? Did you have to deliver bleak news about redundancy, or speak to someone about a disciplinary issue?

No manager relishes these conversations and there are several reasons why you might want to avoid them. Obviously, the main reason that comes to mind is that they are uncomfortable. They can also damage working relationships and they can use up a lot of your emotional energy as you work out how to approach the conversation and think about what to say and what not to say, as well as worrying about how the other person might react. 

But difficult conversations shouldn’t be avoided, as this sets you up for even more trouble down the line. Having a difficult conversation now is almost like lancing a boil; initially, it might be painful, but you’re avoiding more pain and a more serious problem later on by avoiding the issue. 

What will happen if you don’t address poor performance? It will impact negatively on other members of the team who might have to end up carrying the can for the person who’s not performing. They’ll become resentful and this will impact on morale and motivation. 

You might lose the respect of your team for failing to address something that needs addressing and this will affect your credibility as a manager. 

People will look to you as a leader to bite the bullet and sort out the difficult issues that are festering away in the team and potentially harming the business. 

I know it’s not easy, but there’s a knack for having difficult conversations that makes them feel a bit less like an ordeal. 

First, I would recommend never having a difficult conversation unless you have carefully weighed up what you are going to say. I know that life doesn’t always work like that and sometimes the moment is thrust upon you, but even then, consider if it’s right to have the conversation at all when people are feeling stressed and emotions are running high. 

Before you have a difficult conversation, take a step back and consider what you want to get out of it. Think about what you are going to do if it turns negative. How are you going to make the other person feel like they have been heard and have got something out of it too? 

You may often ‘wing it’ as a manager, but having difficult conversations is one example of a time when you shouldn’t do this. 

If you find yourself in a difficult conversation that you’re not prepared for and you can see that it’s taking a wrong turn, end it and return to it later when you and/or the other person have had the chance to take a step back, calm down, and regain your balance. 

When you do get the chance to have the conversation, you need to be aware of what’s going on at all times. This demands a level of self-awareness and emotional awareness. 

Watch the other person’s reaction. Does it seem like they are listening and taking on board what you are saying? How are you coming across? Does the other person seem intimidated? 

You have to be almost hyper-aware of the language you use and of your body language. 

You also have to be open and honest, and build trust and respect because why would someone listen to you if they don’t trust or respect you? 

If they trust and respect you, they’ll know that you are having this conversation with them not for your own reasons, but for the good of the team and the business. 

There are some situations you’ll come across where a difficult conversation won’t have any positive outcome, no matter how it plays out. Like when you have to tell someone they are being made redundant, for instance. 

Some of you will have had to do this recently, and I think you’ll agree that it’s one of the toughest things you’ll ever do as a manager. 

The conversation can’t be avoided and you have to face up to it. 

You have to plan how you are going to deliver it with honesty, empathy, and sensitivity. Offering to support the person in whatever way you can is a good way to show that you care and want to help them move on from this situation. 

Treating people with dignity and respect at all times is so important. 

Another thing to note is that while there’s no ideal time to have a difficult conversation, sometimes it is better to defer it and have it at a more opportune time. 

For example, if you know an employee is going through a tough time in their personal life, you might not want to pile more stress on them. People can only ever cope with having so much on their plate at any one time. 

If there’s a performance issue you need to talk to them about, consider that this may well be directly related to the situation that’s going on in their personal life. If you think that this might be the case, have an open and honest conversation with them, and give them the chance to open up. They might even be relieved that they do not have to struggle alone anymore. Find out how you can help and offer support -this could be the difference between retaining and losing a valued employee. 

Having difficult conversations is one of the toughest things about being a manager but the price you pay if you avoid them is far too high. 

Face up to them, plan them well, be aware of how you’re coming across, handle them sensitively, and consider what else might be going on. 

Not every difficult conversation will go smoothly, but these rules are a basic blueprint for achieving a more successful and positive outcome. 

Do you feel like you need some support with having difficult conversations?

Are people disengaged and is performance suffering? 

You know there are issues that you need to get to the bottom of, and you admit that you’d love some help with knowing how to approach the difficult things, but does the thought of spending money right now make you feel nervous?

Ask yourself, if you don’t act, what will change for the better?

Investing in getting some help will transform your team into one that’s more harmonious, better performing, more productive, and more profitable. Imagine having a great team who want to work together for the good of the business. 

It’s all possible. 

You can book a call to arrange a discovery call. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and I’ll see you next time.

This is The People Mentor, signing off. 

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