Today I’ll discuss the tendency to occasionally avoid challenging conversations.
An industrial psychologist in our firm has an interesting take on this issue: He says there are two kinds of people: Those who know they may be avoiding difficult conversations and those that don’t know.
Let’s see how this view applies to our interactions.
In not addressing an issue that you find critical, we know you’re endorsing the very behavior that’s frustrating you. We call this ‘Passive Endorsement’. Think of your silence as an invitation for continuing the very behaviors or processes which you find counterproductive or irritating.
Sometimes we avoid these discussions because we expect an unpleasant negative reaction.
In many cases avoidance is used with good intentions, such as: “She already has too much on her plate. I don’t want to add to her burdens”; or “He’s having some trouble at home. This just isn’t the right time”; or “My team is already stressed about this issue. Why add fuel to the fire?”
Whether kindly-meant or fear-based, the results can be deadly. They can limit your organization’s flexibility, diminishing your competitive position in the marketplace, and ultimately putting people’s jobs in jeopardy. Maybe even yours.
Our solution is to coach our clients to take action on this principle: The organization that engages in and resolves the most difficult discussions the quickest, has, and maintains a huge competitive advantage. Consider this: The higher you are on the organizational chart, the more dangerous your silence becomes.
Here are three emotionally intelligent ways to engage in potentially challenging discussions:
Use a permissive approach: Say something like “I have an observation which I think might be difficult for you to hear. Could you suggest a good time and place to share it with you?”
Use a contrasting statement: “Overall I think our relationship is good, but that’s a topic for another time. Right now I’d like to discuss my impression that you’ve been interrupting me in meetings.”
Be vulnerable: “I need to discuss something with you, but I don’t know how to approach it. Will you help me get started?” Remember that vulnerability is the conduit to trust, and trust is the foundation of all successful relationships.
To sum up: Silence is your enemy when there is a need to resolve conflicts. Finding a way to address these issues is your best way to effect change, and while you’re engaging others, remember to generate an atmosphere of Emotional Safety™.
As always, we appreciate your attention, and for additional ideas, follow me on twitter: @HenryJEvans