Have you ever hesitated to have that difficult conversation because you didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings? You’re not alone. A survey asked 236 managers to rate the reasons why they avoid difficult conversations with employees, and the survey proved something: it proved most managers are "nice."
Seriously. Of the top five reasons for avoiding difficult conversations, four involved concern for the other person, and the remaining issue involved the managers blaming themselves for the problem! Here is the distribution of the top 10 reasons that were given:
- Worried about stressing the other person: 97%
- Worried about damaging the other’s self-esteem: 94%
- Worried about upsetting the person: 92%
- Thinking expectations weren’t made clear enough: 91%
- Concerned about being fair: 85%
- Concerned about getting an angry response: 80%
- Fearing permanent damage to the relationship: 79%
- Fearing short-term awkwardness in the relationship: 79%
- Concern you got the wrong end of the stick: 78%
- Concern you hadn’t gathered sufficient evidence to tackle the issue: 78%
Most people naturally want to treat others well. They don’t want to purposely hurt others. The problem is, if you don’t have that conversation, you may be hurting the person more in the long run. How can he correct his behavior if he doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong? How can she continue to succeed if she isn’t told the areas in which she’s falling short of expectations? In fact, I believe most people crave feedback—that is feedback delivered in a manner that helpful and restorative. In a manner that helps the person develop professionally and personally. Communication is the foundation of good relationships, and that includes difficult communication.
It Doesn’t Always Have to Be Difficult
But most of the time, the majority of the difficulty can be avoided if it’s approached the right way. That is, although the conversation may be a bit uncomfortable, ultimately by having the conversation, you are showing the person that you value the relationship and that you are willing to be uncomfortable to move the relationship forward. Unfortunately, most people never get training on how to handle sensitive conversations. There’s no required course in “How to talk to someone without hurting their feelings” in high school or college, and there should be. How many fewer problems would there be in the world?
Some companies are realizing the importance of this skill and are hiring communications experts (excuse my shameless plug!) to teach their managers and employees how to best interact, especially with difficult situations. I’ll give you a few points here.