Are you avoiding difficult conversations?

August 02, 2016 | By Joe Dellasega

James did not want to have to tell Sam that something had to change.  Sam had a great attitude, but he just didn’t have the skills necessary to get the job done.  Everyone knew the conversation was imminent, but James dreaded it so much that he put it off week after week.  The procrastination effected efficiency, morale and ultimately James’s own career.

Whether it’s a termination, or holding an employee or vendor accountable, everyone goes through periods of anxiety when it comes to having a difficult conversation.  Learning to embrace difficult conversations is a great way to improve your own personal effectiveness.

Tips to get better at having difficult conversations:

  1. Ask yourself ‘Is it truth’? At times conversations CAN be avoided.  A mentor of mine once challenged me to ask, “Is this conversation truly necessary? If you are convinced that the issue is real and corrective action is necessary, the conversation is warranted.  Proceed quickly…do not procrastinate.
  2. Recognize feelings. Many times we simply do not like to ‘feel’ bad or have someone else ‘feel’ bad.  Patrick Lencioni in his book The Advantage talks about how the ultimate act of cowardice is avoiding a difficult conversation.  If you truly care about your people, boldly enter into difficult conversations.  Yes, it may be painful for one or both parties.  However, like pulling off a band aid, the short term pain is nothing compared to the long term benefit.
  3. Be prepared by practicing. Take time to prepare for difficult conversations.  Retreat to the classroom of silence where you can gain clarity about what you are hoping to accomplish and the most effective way to communicate the message.  Anticipate the other person’s perspective, and be prepared for rebuttals.  Practice the conversation in front of a mirror or with a friend.
  4. Be vulnerable. If you played some role in the poor performance or the need for the conversation, don’t hesitate to take ownership for your actions.   This searching for common ground will pay dividends as you proceed through the conversation.
  5. Be patient, but intentional. There is an art to having both patience and a sense of urgency in difficult conversations.  A common tendency many people have is to extend the conversation.  This leads to confusion and miscommunication.  Instead, be direct and be timely!
  6. Have a ‘next step’. A difficult conversation with no set actions will most likely end up being a waste of time.  Come prepared to share the opportunities for resolution.  If the resolution is ending employment, or a relationship, be direct in stating options (even if they are not pleasant).  Many times the person ends up not understanding what happens next!
  7. Follow up. Commit to following up on the conversation.  This is the phase that brings the greatest return, and is often the one that we tend to forget.

During my career, I have seen many very talented people that have never reached their full potential because of their inability to forge a difficult conversation.  If you, or a member of your team, would like to improve in this area, please give the Dellasega Group a call.  The tips above are only the beginning.  We help individuals learn more about themselves and the changes they desire to make to get better.