Most of us have actively avoided a difficult conversation. Nobody relishes having that feeling of dread in the pit of their stomach or the worry that a conversation will become a full-blown confrontation.
But let’s face it, avoiding difficult conversations forever is neither possible nor wise. The stress, strains, uncertainty, and developments of the last few years mean that these types of conversations have become more common. In a climate of stress and uncertainty, do we really want to put these crucial conversations off?
The Heavy Toll of Difficult Conversations
According to CMI research, a survey found that 57% of respondents said they would do almost anything to avoid a difficult conversation. 52% said they would rather put up with a negative situation at work than have to talk about it.
The survey also found that two-thirds of the 2,000 workers who were surveyed said they felt stressed or anxious if they knew they had to have a difficult conversation.
The Fear Around Difficult Conversations
Why do difficult conversations provoke so much stress, anxiety, and fear? Whether the conversation is around poor performance, personality clashes, or personal problems, many people dread them.
The CMI survey asked people what they feared the most about difficult conversations. Here’s what they said:
43% feared not knowing how the other person will respond;
31% were worried about not being able to get a point across clearly;
29% were afraid of being in a confrontational situation;
29% worried about getting upset or emotional;
21% worried about the other person getting upset or emotional.
Aside from the fact that difficult conversations are emotionally demanding, there’s something else worsening the fear around them – A lack of knowledge about how to deal with them. 80% of those surveyed by the CMI said they had no formal training on how to handle difficult conversations.
Why Avoiding Difficult Conversations is Damaging for Your Team
Do you avoid difficult conversations and hope that things miraculously get better? Well, they won’t. In my experience, avoiding difficult conversations just creates bigger problems down the line. For example:
Unresolved disagreements can become full-blown conflicts;
Personality clashes and a lack of communication can lead to serious team dysfunction;
If people don’t speak up to share ideas or concerns, projects can fail;
If people aren’t held accountable for poor behaviour and performance, it can affect team morale and culture;
If performance issues aren’t raised in a timely way, team members don’t get the chance to put things right. This can be a big problem if that comes to light in the case of dismissal;
If you fail to have a conversation with THAT team member that everyone else is carrying, it’s letting the team down. A situation like this is a breeding ground for frustration and resentment.
Remember too that there’s one person who will feel incredibly stressed when difficult conversations are continually put off- You. You’re spinning enough plates without having that hanging over your head as well.
No More Avoiding Difficult Conversations
Make this your mantra, ‘I will follow these rules to make sure I have the conversations I need to have, even if they are difficult.’
Now let’s look at an approach that the CMI suggest that I really like. They’ve kept it simple and used the acronym TALK. Here are the steps they suggest:
T- Think about reframing the conversation. Don’t go in thinking of it as ‘difficult,’ Instead, go in with the intention of working with someone to find a workable solution.
A – Always use clear, simple, and neutral language. Don’t accuse the other person and don’t just share your opinion. Stick to specific examples and facts.
L – Listen to what the other person is saying and try to hear and understand their perspective on the issue.
K – Keep the focus on the issue, not the person. Whatever you do, don’t make it personal.
Difficult conversations can feel like a minefield at the best of times, especially if you’ve had no training or guidance on how to handle them.
If you want to quit avoiding difficult conversations and turn them into opportunities to learn, build trust, collaborate, and grow, let’s talk about my Making Difficult Conversations Easier Programme.
You’ll get 10 weekly 2-hour virtual interactive sessions alongside bitesize reading and videos, as well as personalised support to discuss any difficult conversations and how to handle them.
Having someone to back you up and talk you through different approaches can make a huge difference in the success of your conversations.
Sound like it’s right up your street?