The Hidden Costs of Avoiding Difficult Conversations

difficult conversations - Leadership coaching Chesterfield

difficult conversations - Leadership coaching ChesterfieldWhat is a difficult conversation?

Effective communication is at the core of all great businesses. It is fundamental to building trust and relationships and building motivated and engaged teams who will go over and beyond to deliver exceptional results. It can be argued that the lack of effective communication causes more problems in business, and life in general, than anything else.

If the thought of having a difficult conversation at work fills you or your team leaders with dread, you are not alone.

According to 2020 research by the CMI (Chartered Management Institute) the top four most difficult workplace conversations are viewed as

1) Pay packets / asking for a pay rise – 33%

2) Inappropriate behaviour in the workplace – 31%

3) Feedback on poor performance – 30%

4) Promotions – 23%

and the survey showed it’s apparently more challenging to ask for a pay rise than to end a relationship!

If the thought of having to have certain conversations with individuals in your team, your boss, suppliers, or clients makes you feel anxious and stressed and you find yourself constantly putting them off, then this is most likely an important conversation ……. and needs to be had ……and more importantly, had well!

5 Reasons we avoid difficult conversations

1) Fear:

  • of not knowing how the other person will respond
  • of not being able to get a point across clearly
  • of being in a confrontational situation
  • of getting upset or emotional
  • of the other person getting upset or emotional
  • of not knowing how to have the conversation

2) Lack of Time:

  • “I’m too busy” to do it now
  • “it’s not the biggest priority” right now

3) A previous bad experience:

  • it didn’t go well last time and I don’t want that experience again

4) Don’t think we are the right person to have it:

  • its not my job
  • I didn’t see it happen
  • they don’t report into me

5) Wanting to be liked:

  • they are my friend and I don’t want to damage our relationship
  • I want them to like me

What is the hidden cost of avoiding difficult conversations?

All of us have important conversations we need to have everyday. And many of us will have blockers, things that are stopping us from having those conversations when they are most needed.

Do these resonate with you or someone in your team?

  • do you feel stressed or anxious about having difficult conversations?
  • do you fear how someone might react to what you have to say?
  • do you worry about what to say and how to say it….. so put off the conversation?
  • do you find you leave things for too long before speaking and then find you blurt out and it all comes out wrong and causes more problems?
  • do you use “not having enough time” as an excuse ?
  • do you lack confidence or feel its not your place?
  • do you feel frustrated that people don’t seem to be following you or delivering in the way you want them to?

Putting these conversations off causes problems for us as individuals and also for the business and whilst some of these problems will be felt in the short term many will not appear until further down the line and will be caused by avoidance.

For the individual, it affects us emotionally, physically and behaviourally causing unnecessary stress, anxiety and frustrations. Unwanted and unhelpful behaviours can manifest which lead to making things worse, hindering relationships, breaking trust and affecting team culture.

For the business it can lead to a general lack of overall engagement and productivity, increases in sickness, absence and turnover and a rise in disciplinary and grievances as the fall out of not having had timely conversations plays out. All of which affect revenue and results.

Very often, we promote people on their ability to do the technical side of their job and we don’t provide sufficient training on the people skills, like helping them deal with difficult conversations. In bigger businesses, middle management have a huge amount of pressure put on the them. They are sandwiched in between employees and senior leaders and struggle because employees are generally pushing issues up to them just as senior managers are pushing them down.

So the question is, are the important conversations truly difficult OR are we making these conversations unnecessarily difficult because we don’t have the skillset to have them?

6 Things you can do to help you handle a difficult conversation well

Purpose – be clear on why you are having the conversation and what your ideal outcome is

Prepare – collate your facts, consider what you want to say and where you will have the conversation ensuring you allow enough time, stay objective

Be aware – of your emotions and the other persons emotions. Notice what pre judgements you may have and notice what is going on for you and the other person in the moment. Create a psychologically safe place in which to have the conversation

Share your perspective – tell them the purpose of the conversation, share your facts and your side of the story and how you feel. Stay calm and objective

Ask for their perspective – listen to their side of they story, be curious, ask how they feel and never assume you know what they are going to say. Stay calm and objective

Agree the way forward – explore the issues, identify the options, discuss support required and agree the way forward together

The opportunity to have impactful conversations that make a real difference, occur every day however they are particularly useful in the following scenarios

  • In handling difficult conversations more effectively
  • In setting objectives and holding people to account for delivery
  • In appraisals and 121s
  • In delegating and time management
  • In developing and stretching your team
  • In handling conflict more effectively and confidently
  • In running effective meetings ……… and much more

So STOP fearing difficult conversations. START having those conversations that will make a difference at work