What’s Worse than a Difficult Conversation? Avoiding One.

Difficult conversations are sometimes a necessary part of interacting with people, whether that is in the work environment or outside of it. 

They are difficult because no one finds them pleasant, or enjoyable, and they raise a swag of negative emotions for all involved.  People avoid talking to those whose behaviour creates problems. We talk about them and not to them. We avoid having difficult conversations.

If we do try to talk directly with the person whose behaviour is of concern – often the conversation misses the mark and creates additional problems with the work relationship. 

This is a topic that we get asked about constantly – in our coaching work, in our consultation, and in the communication workshops we deliver.  In our experience, it usually boils down to the behaviour of one or more individuals.  This behaviour causes disruption and some pretty negative emotions.

People make the mistake of avoiding what is scary or challenging, choosing instead to ‘lay low’ or seek comfort from others who are just as uncomfortable and disagree with the behaviour that is causing the difficulty.

Consider what can happen if avoidance is the chosen course of action:Difficult conversations

  1. People stay stuck
  2. Frustration remains
  3. Complaints increase
  4. Einstein’s definition of insanity* applies
  5. Trust remains low or drops further
  6. Negative morale appears or increases
  7. Productivity drops
  8. Sick leave can increase
  9. Claims of bullying or harassment can arise
  10. Job satisfaction decreases
  11. Personal health suffers
  12. Mental health suffers
  13. Factions or cliques develop
  14. And most of all – the problem will CONTINUE. 

* when we do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

Because disagreement and conflict are part of human interaction we cannot avoid all that is  unpleasant.  We must learn how to successfully navigate these types of situations when they arise.

So what can you do?

You need a planned approach – the more difficult the conversation, the more detail your plan needs to include.  You must approach the conversation with care, consideration and the right mind frame.

This is not an easy, quick fix, nor is it complicated.  It requires some creative thinking on your part.  Can you set your current strategy aside?

There are 7 steps we recommend as part of our ‘Saying the Unsayable’ Workshop.  Let’s look at the first two steps to having a difficult conversation. 

If you want to get the most out of our tips, download the worksheet 7 steps to challenging conversations to take notes and jot down some of your own examples.

Step 1 – Decide to have the conversation

  • Determine why this is important to you, and why it is important to the other person.
  • Consider the impact of having this conversation, as well as
  • The impact of not having this conversation?

If you have been avoiding the conversation, get really clear that you have made a choice – the choice to do nothing and to hope that someone else will deal with it, or wish that it would just go away.

In these types of situations, we are always at choice – be aware that even if you don’t consider yourself to be making a choice, not choosing IS a choice.

If you are not going to have the conversation, stop talking about the topic.  Move on.  Let it go. Avoid speaking about the behaviour giving rise to the difficulty.

If you cannot do that, then return to step one….

Step 2 – Consider Root Causes

What is causing the situation to occur, in your opinion?  If the name and face of a particular person just sprang to mind, acknowledge the quick response you had.  And gather additional information.  Is there some element present in the workplace that affects the situation?

A couple of points to check here – ensure you are standing on ‘solid ground’, and not on your ‘soap box’ of personal values, opinion, or morals.  There needs to be a solid foundation on which the conversation is based – be that organisational values, agreed terms of workplace behaviour, established family agreements, or even job descriptions. 

If there are not documented ‘ground rules’, guidelines or established standards (and this is what is the source of your frustration!) perhaps that is the basis of the conversation – to find common areas of agreement, how we will work or live together. 

Write down and consider all that you are thinking of the situation (as well as what you think of the other person).

There is no denying there is a problem and that it is causing difficulty for you (and possibly others).  We recommend that you take in as much information as you can, including your thoughts, feelings and opinions, as well as those of others in the workplace. 

Consider the facts from a neutral perspective.  How would someone who is not part of your work team view the situation? The other person? You?

Once you have decided to have the conversation and now have a good amount of information as to the root causes, it is time to take Step 3 – Gather Details & Plan Logistics.

Download the worksheet and spend ten minutes on Steps 1 & 2.  This is a way for you to build your skills as well as your confidence to tackling those challenging conversations.

The information contained in this blog is sourced from our SAYING THE UNSAYABLE one day training course.

Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInTweet about this on Twitter

We hope you enjoyed our blog?

Please subscribe to our mailing list to get more great ideas and updates fortnightly. In return we will send you our free ebook ' The Essential Guide to Exceptional Communication'.


You have Successfully Subscribed!