The other day my colleagues and I were discussing some of the toughest conversations we’ve had to have at work.  These ranged from terminations that did not go well, to bad behavior at the company Christmas party (with the CEO nonetheless!), to a son no longer wanting to be part of the family business, to a coworker with body odor.  Many leaders have been there and understand the discomfort that comes with each of these. In fact, one shared that another colleague told him he’d have to fire him before he’d have the body odor conversation!

During our discussion, we listed the excuses, or “myths” we tell ourselves as to why these conversations can wait…or not happen at all:

  1. “If I wait, it will get better on its own.”  Will it?  What if you are the first, or the only, person to be really honest and show your investment in this person?  Sure, it will be difficult, and downright embarrassing (for them too) but wouldn’t you want to be afforded the same courtesy and have the opportunity to grow and move forward? He/she may just end up being grateful that you were courageous enough to have the conversation in the first place.
  2. “I fear it will change our relationship.” –  By avoiding the conversation altogether, you are inevitably hurting the relationship anyway – you end up avoiding the person, they will pick up on your avoidance and discomfort and will eventually get the hint by no longer talking to you at all. You may, in fact, cause tension or discomfort in the relationship in the moment of the conversation, but what if you find out that your relationship can withstand a little honesty and grow from there?
  3. “It’s not my place/job to say something.” –  Isn’t it your job as a leader, friend, colleague or teammate? Say what you want, but the real question comes down to, isn’t it your job as a human being?
  4. “I fear retribution or losing my job.” – Having a dreaded conversation with your boss or a higher up in the company causes us all to think about this possibility. But if you are coming from a good place (leading with your heart), you have a true purpose, and are honoring yourself and your values, and you still get fired…then this probably wasn’t the job, boss, culture, or company for you anyway.
  5. “I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.” – This is really less of a myth than what we tell ourselves in order to feel better about our feelings. The truth is that in these uncomfortable situations, we are more worried about our discomfort than that of the other person. This reaction doesn’t necessarily come from a selfish place, it’s just human nature to not want to be put in that place.

So, here’s why you need to find the courage to have the tough conversations:

  1. No matter what you prepare yourself for, the conversation will probably surprise you. Sometimes in a good way and other times not so much. Practice what you want to say or jot down some key points beforehand if you need to. Be emotionally prepared that you will elicit a response – it could be tears, anger, denial – but if you think about how to handle each of those responses, it will help you through it.
  2. You may get done and think, “whew, thank goodness that’s over,” but chances are you may need to have several follow-up conversations. This could actually open up a dialogue and start a newfound respect and/or deeper friendship – it doesn’t always have to be a negative experience.
  3. By being open, vulnerable and humble in your conversation (not accusatory or judgmental), the benefits will proliferate. It will, in fact:
    • Demonstrate your leadership ability and credibility
    • Show your investment in the person (that even though it was uncomfortable, you did it anyway), your investment in your relationship and the company you work for
    • Build trust and respect
    • Help build not only your confidence, but that of the other person, which will help him/her grow

Recognizing the myths of having tough conversations can help all of us have the courage to have them when they need to happen. You may not always get the result you were looking for, but not having the conversation pretty much guarantees a negative outcome, so isn’t it a conversation worth investing in?