If you’re delaying having those difficult conversations with your direct reports or putting them in the “too hard” basket you’re not alone. 

In any relationship – whether it’s with family, friends, colleagues or team members – we encounter challenging situations.

Handling a difficult situation is not about avoiding conflict; it’s about how to manage the situation when it arises.

Many people leaders are averse to conflict and do everything they can in order to avoid it. It is so much easier to keep quiet, don’t rock the boat and not say anything at all.

Overtime, not speaking up builds resentment and can impact your relationships at work, your mental, emotional and physical health.
As Peter Bromber says, “When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.”

As a leader, when you speak up with respect, empathy, and curiosity when addressing difficult situations, you open the dialogue, acknowledge what the other person is thinking or experiencing and give permission to others to share.

 The result is that people experience a safe environment, awareness and opportunities to work more cohesively which ultimately benefits the work environment and business results.

Here’s what you can do to embrace feedback even if it feels awkward:

Reframe the conversation

The way you think when dealing with a tough situation makes a difference between being open and have a great outcome in a conversation or not.

If you are thinking that having a conversation will cause conflict and will be difficult, it will be shown in your attitude.

Subconsciously it’s likely that you enter into a discussion feeling nervous, defensive, anxious or upset.

The words conflict, hard and difficult have a negative connotation, so when you change your mindset by reframing in a way that feels more comfortable. Instead of thinking about managing a difficult situation, think about having a conversation to provide feedback and refocus on expectations.

Choose to have the conversation

This may sound counter-intuitive, however the more energy and power you give to the gremlin in your head , the bigger it becomes.  There are countless opportunities that you have as a people leader that require you to speak up. It’s important to define what a difficult situation is for you. It may be providing general feedback, addressing underperformance, behavioural issues or redundancies.

Avoiding challenging situations and sweeping things under the carpet will only create more problems in the short and long term, for you and your team. It is like a snowball effect: the problems start on a small scale, then time passes by and you soon realise it’s important to do something about the situation before you get hit.

In some cases by the time you decide to take action, it might be like trying to escape from the avalanche that is coming your way – it’s too late to get out of the way without being injured!

Imagine there is someone in your team who is underperforming. It could be that they are not hitting their sales targets, they are making the same mistakes, delaying projects, etc.

The impact of not saying anything at all  is huge because it delays work from other staff members, there are inconsistencies, your customers are affected as well as the morale in the whole team. Ultimately the overall results and business are affected.

What would you do when one of your staff members is not performing. Here are some scenarios:

a. Wish your team member finds another role.

b. Pretend the situation is not happening, compromise and do the job yourself.

c. Delay the difficult conversation and hope the issue will go away.

d. Deal with the situation and speak up with your team member.

If options a, b and c seem the easiest and less painful you’re not alone , however option d has greater benefits in the short and long term. Let’s take a look to the different scenarios:

Option a: People become comfortable in their positions unless they face an extremely painful situation – only then they start looking for another role. I’ve seen many cases where people wait until someone else makes the decision for them before they look for another role.

Option b: You can compromise and start to do more work in order to compensate for another worker’s lack of performance. Over a period of time you will be tired, stressed and resentful. This will damage your relationships and can have an impact on your health and your personal life.

Option c: Wishing and hoping that the situation disappears won’t take you anywhere. It is like walking with a pebble in your shoe. If you don’t get rid of the problem, then over time it will affect the way you walk and your posture until it may be too late to repair the damage. At work, the relationship between you and your team member deteriorates, motivation drops, resentment increases, your tolerance diminishes and you experience more frustration.

Option d: Requires more courage at the beginning. However, once you take action you see the benefits: your confidence in dealing with challenging situations grows. You provide the opportunity to the other person to be aware of the situation and change their behaviour.

The cost of not speaking up and avoiding dealing with challenging situations is too high. The morale in your team members will be low. They will feel disengaged and you will lose valuable team members. Business results will be impacted due to low productivity and growth will be in decline.

Anyone can have a meaningful conversation when things are great. A leader is the one able to have meaningful and tough conversations during challenging times while being supporting and kind.