Build great Teams – People management

Avoiding Conversations – The Sign It’s A Difficult Conversation

Avoiding Conversations - The Sign It's A Difficult Conversation

Avoiding conversations is a sure sign you’re avoiding one or more ‘difficult conversations’. Difficult conversations need to be dealt with, not ignored or avoided. Being able to handle any level of difficult conversations is part of managing people. It’s likely to come up in performance management in particular. So if you find yourself avoiding holding a conversation, don’t brush it under the carpet. Face it head on.

When I work with clients on the topic of handling difficult conversations, I typically ask them to use a real example as we work through the process. They often say they don’t have a real example because their team works well. We soon find that actually they do have a real example. We identify it because it’s a conversation they’re avoiding.

Avoiding Conversations – What Does It Matter?

Have you ever had a situation where you knew you needed to raise a topic with someone but didn’t know how? You were worried they’d be upset or angry. You didn’t want to have to deal with someone else’s emotions?

One of my clients has an employee who’s habitually late. The first few times it happened, she noticed, but didn’t say anything. After a few months it was happening often enough she thought she should say something. But she was worried something bad was happening in their personal life and didn’t want to intrude or upset them. Or she convinced herself that they’d get angry that she’d raised it and they’d end up arguing.

We were doing an exercise on the topic of difficult conversations. I asked them to “Pick an actual situation if you’ve got one, it makes the exercise easier”. They said they didn’t have one. I reminded her about this ongoing issue, and her reluctance to raise the topic. Avoiding conversations for fear of upsetting someone or it becoming an argument is a classic sign you’re facing a difficult conversation.

What Is A Difficult Conversation?

A “difficult conversation” is one where you have to manage emotions and sensitive information. Typically times are dealing with poor performance, poor behaviour and personality clashes.

They’re pretty common, and include any time when there is emotion involved on either side. You might be emotional if you think you might upset the other person by what you have to say. This might put you off holding the conversation at all. Or it may cause you to go into the conversation on the defensive. The emotion for the other person usually comes as a result of surprise. For example, if someone thinks they’re working well, and you tell them they’re not, their surprise leads to an emotional response. Or in this case, it’s more likely to be them getting defensive or angry that you’ve potentially caught them out.

When Is It OK To Avoid Conversations?

Generally, if the behaviour being exhibited is affecting other people, you or your business, you need to address it. The earlier you address it the better. If you put it off, the situation may get worse. There are ways to do this that will make it easier for both parties.

Most people will do anything to avoid a difficult conversation. Sometimes that instinct is valid. Not every conversation needs to be had immediately, had by you, or even had at all. If you decide the situation is truly likely to resolve itself, maybe you should skip the conversation. Be honest!

Skipping the conversation may be the right thing to do if you’re looking to place blame. Or if the appropriate time to address the problem has passed. Make sure you’re delivering messages for the right reasons and to generate the desired results. Use your preparation time before holding the conversation to decide whether you should have the conversation at all. Delay rather than cancellation may be a better option if you need to gather more information. Just be honest with yourself when you decide, and don’t put off something you need to do.

My Question To You

Are there conversations you know you’re avoiding? What’s stopping you holding them? What might happen if you don’t hold them? If this is something you would like to discuss or would like some help with, contact me at You can also buy my book Accelerate to Team Success which is available as a paperback or on Kindle.


About the Author:

Nikki Faulkner photo Dr Nikki Faulkner founded Mulberry Bush Consulting to work with business leaders and their teams to make the 'People' side of their business as effective as possible. Mulberry Bush Consulting's specialty is helping small businesses who are new to having employees and helping businesses who are growing rapidly and increasing their employee-base at a rate that is creating a significant challenge.

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