Carolyn Stevens
Leading Performance
Leading Performance
Are You Avoiding Having A Tough Conversation?

Written by Carolyn Stevens, Executive Coach, Leader Coach & Team Coach based in Sydney, Australia.

I’m going to cut right to the chase here…

The primary cause of most of your discomfort with tough conversations is that you’re avoiding saying what needs to be said.
Think about a tough conversation that you need to have: Are you trying to not say something?

Let’s Look At Andrew’s (Lack Of) Communication With His Boss, John.

Andrew told me that he’d been avoiding addressing an issue with John, his boss.
Andrew knew John was feeling nervous about his lack of progress with a project. Because Andrew felt guilty about his lack of progress, he was ducking and diving, avoiding having a conversation with John.

It’d gotten to the point where Andrew’s hours in the office were extreme and he was experiencing way too much stress.
Both Andrew and John were putting off talking about the situation.
As a consequence their communications and their relationship had become strained.
When Andrew described this uncomfortable situation to me I asked, “If you were to be candid, what are your thoughts about the project and the looming deadline?” He responded “Although there’ve been extenuating circumstances, I’m still going for meeting the deadline—but I’m pretty certain we’re not going to make them.”

I then asked, “How are you feeling about not meeting your deadline and the impact that will have on the project and on your reputation?” He said “I feel bad because my team members are all very, very stressed. And I’m nervous because I’ve let myself and my boss down on this one. It feels horrible.”

I asked, “How would it be if you put those thoughts and feelings on the table with John, as well as your plan to make the best of the unfavourable situation?”

That afternoon Andrew had a discussion with John…

Andrew’s Conversation With John 

It went well . Andrew was candid and fully disclosed his thoughts and feelings about his progress with the project.

Andrew’s candour with John elicited candour from John. (Funny that!)

As it turned out, John’s biggest problem was that previously he didn’t know that Andrew actually “got” how critical it was that the deadline was met—principally because Andrew had been avoiding having the tough conversation.

John was relieved when Andrew tabled his position and how he planned to deal with the situation, even though they were both pretty sure that there’d be slippage with the deadline. And Andrew, having got it all off his chest with John, felt a whole lot better too.

Why Do You Shy Away From Saying What Needs To Be Said? 

Given the benefits of candour, what is it that has you being reluctant to “put the moose on the table?”

If you’re like most leaders, some of your reasons will be that:
  • You’re not clear on what your thoughts and feelings actually are.

  • You’re worried that your candour might have the other person take advantage of you.

  • You actually don’t know how to approach it.

  • You’re not altogether aware of the advantages of being candid.

Why Communicate Your Thoughts And Feelings?

By getting clear about your thoughts and feelings, and then disclosing them:
  • You get additional clarity on your position.
    Simply by asking yourself (or being asked) “What are you really thinking?” and “How are you really feeling?” you’ll better understand your targeted outcome.

  • You no longer need to put energy into not disclosing.
    Think about something you don’t want to say: Doesn’t hiding it take a lot of energy?

  • Trust skyrockets!
    Candidly disclosing your thoughts and feelings evokes trust. Lack of truth-telling sows the seeds of mistrust.

  • Authentically communicating your thoughts and feelings puts you and the other person in a hugely better position to solve the problem.

  • And also, apart from it having a positive impact on productivity, it feels one-hell-of-a-lot-better too!

Your Leadership Call to Action

  1. Think about that conversation that you need to have—one that hasn’t been sitting comfortably with you:

    - What are your thoughts about the situation?

    - Honestly, how do you feel about it?

    - What’s an outcome that you could target that will sit well with the other person?

  2. Now, think through the authentic conversation that you could have:

    In your mind’s eye, imagine it going well. See you and the other person smiling, even laughing warmly, as you complete the communication.

Enjoy being your authentic self!


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Contact Carolyn
PO Box 196, North Sydney,
NSW 2059, Australia
 +612 9960 7699
 +61 412 030 947
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