Avoiding a tough conversation is like stepping over broken glass. The mess won’t go away and it’s going to cut you. It’s only a matter of time.
I’ve been working with people for over 20 years observing them avoid the tough conversations in the hope the issue will go away… so how’s that been working for you?
The good news is that you’re not alone! You’re normal and it’s normal to prefer to scrub the roof tiles with a toothbrush or stick needles in your eyes instead. More than half of the workforce tend to avoid these difficult conversations. The most common reasons Can We Talk? observes are;
- We don’t want to damage the relationship
- There’s no point – nothing will change
- We don’t know how to approach the conversation
- I don’t have the time (code for – I won’t make the time)
- They are not my responsibility
- I’m too scared of their reaction
All of these reasons are valid and become the biggest excuses from us having the ‘real’ conversations with our colleagues. Perhaps we don’t consider the tangible and considerable costs of avoiding them enough?
In the words of Joseph Grenny; “If you don’t talk it out, you will act it out”. When we don’t have the conversation we need to, we tend to make decisions that are grounded in avoidance.
I’ll give you an example that is not uncommon. Bill, the Manager, has observed that Mary, the company’s Project Manager, has spoken to several of her colleagues, in and out of meetings, using condescending statements and intimidating tactics over the past few months. A couple of people have mentioned to Bill how uncomfortable they feel working with Mary recently. A new project arises at work and you decide to give someone else the reins. That is, you have decided that based on the strained relationship that Mary has with her colleagues that she will not be the best choice to lead this new project.
So what do we have here? Instead of talking to Mary about her behaviours and what is going on for her you have acted out how you feel – you have outed her from future work. Mary confronts you about this decision and feels let down, confused clearly frustrated about your decision. So you know have two situations;
- You failed to have the performance conversation and not given Mary a opportunity to understand and to improve.
- Trust and respect has been damaged. It is likely that engagement of both Mary and her colleagues, towards you, has been considerably diminished as you have not had the courage to discuss the ‘real’ issues. After all, you’re the Manager.
The costs here are numerous. Employee engagement for one, (see Can Having ‘Those’ Conversations at Work Really Make a Difference blog) which we know has considerable financial implications. We may need to consider a resignation from Mary or others and the cost of re-hiring … all because we failed to have the tough conversation. We can hear the corridor conversations too that reduce productivity and reduce peoples drive to deliver that discretionary effort. And don’t forget the angst that is created by our own avoidance. We all recognise that feeling in the pit of our stomach that causes us to feel a little nauseas (or a lot) and often keeps us awake at night.
So what if there was a way to have the conversation that maintained trust and respect and actually made a difference to people’s behaviours and performance at work? Well here’s the good news… there is and it works! Don’t suffer from “Broken Glass Management”. It’s your choice. So….. Can We Talk?