Uncomfortable conversations are good for us and here's why - Michelle Gibbings

Uncomfortable conversations aren’t fun. They’re the conversations you often put off until the last minute, and anticipate with dread.

And yet, being able to have them is an essential part of effective leadership and a hallmark of a successful career.

Shying away from these conversations may appear on the surface to be the easy option, but experience shows that avoidance doesn’t work.

All you do is send the problem underground to fester and then blow up, bigger and more troublesome than if you’d stepped in earlier.

By avoiding the conversation, you also miss the opportunity to deepen and strengthen your relationships with people.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but having real conversations with people is at the heart of real relationships.

It’s easy to make assumptions about a person’s intent, particularly in an organisational context and if your relationship with the person is challenging. We can wrongly infer a negative intent, which impacts how we react to their opinions and ideas.

By having an open conversation, being clear with the other person the value you place on the relationship and then understanding their intent and background, you open the path for a stronger and healthier relationship with them.

Having a healthy working relationship with a work colleague doesn’t mean you always have to agree with them. It does, however, mean that you take the time to see things from their perspective.

Consequently, each time we have a difficult conversation with someone we learn and grow from the experience. It broadens our perspective and reminds us to not be closed to other people’s opinions.

When you are proactive and make the first move to step into a difficult conversation it also puts you in a far better position to navigate how the conversation will proceed.

Of course, these types of conversations need to be carefully considered and conducted. You’re likely to fail if you take the crash through approach.

This means you need to have the conversation with the following principles in mind:

  1. You enter the conversation with good intent, a genuine interest in the other person and a desire to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.
  2. You strive to ensure the person knows that you value the relationship.
  3. Abandon the assumptions you hold about the other person’s intent, and so consequently you don’t jump to conclusions and remove judgement. Instead you are curious and ask lots of questions to clarify the intent of what is being said.
  4. Hold the conversation face to face recognising the importance of body language in communication.
  5. Have the conversation at a time when you are not rushed, frazzled or anxious, as you know it is important to be centred, present and calm.
  6. Create space for the other person to feel fully heard so you listen, are comfortable with silence and don’t talk over the other person.
  7. Consider in advance what you want to say during the conversation. People hear messages differently and to have a hearable message you need content that connects with them on a cognitive and emotional level.

The esteemed management guru, Peter Drucker, once said: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

However, if more people felt confident and comfortable to step into difficult conversations we would need to spend less time guessing about a person’s actions and their intent.

Change happens.  Make it work for you.


Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian.  Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them accelerate progress.She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’.  For more information: www.michellegibbings.com or contact michelle@michellegibbings.com.