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Heather Townsend

The Excedia Group


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What gets in the way of having a difficult conversation?


Recently, I needed to leave a networking group which I was a member of. I was adamant that I wasn’t going to cop out and tell the owner of the group my reason for leaving was, ‘too much client work’, and leave the real problems (which would help him to know) unsaid.
I’ll be honest, I avoided the conversation for a couple of weeks, and then I got THAT phone call. The one I couldn’t avoid, and the question I couldn’t avoid. ‘You said you had some feedback which would help me with my groups?’

I took a deep breath, prepared myself for the difficult conversation… no lightning bolt hit me, there was no animosity and we had a constructive and pleasant conversation. I was very surprised as I was likening this conversation to a visit to the dentist – you know you have to go, but it’s not going to be pleasant. (More on this conversation in a later blog post)

It has been proven that if a person is prepared to have a difficult conversation, then the relationship can often strengthen rather than weaken. My relationship with the head of my ex-networking group has indeed strengthened, My question is thus, what is stopping us having a difficult conversation? These are some typical reasons why we avoid having a (often perceived) difficult conversation:

  • We want people to like us
  • We are worried about what reaction we will get
  • We don’t know how they will take the conversation
  • We are worried that we will make the situation worse
  • We’ve had difficult conversations in the past which have gone badly
  • We don’t want to damage the relationship
  • We hate experiencing conflict
  • Perhaps we don’t think having the conversation will change anything

The interesting thing in this whole list, are most of the reasons we delay having the conversation are all in our head. There is very often little grounding in fact for us to delay or refuse to have the conversation. Many times in business, and in my personal life, I have seen relationships break down, because people are not prepared to have the difficult conversation… Or poor performers bring down the morale in a firm because management are not prepared to tackle the poor performance.

What is stopping you having a difficult conversation?

2 Responses

  1. Having difficult conversations

    Thought I’d share a simple analogy with you.

    I remember trying to come up with something that would stop me procrastinating regarding difficult conversations.

    I put myself back to when I was a teenager (more years ago than I care to admit) and thinking about looking in the mirror in the morning to discover I had a zit developing.  Over time I realised that if I kept just touching the zit it would become larger, it might fester and look more furious, at times it would become infected. If however, I waited until I could see the whitehead appear on the spot and I squeezed it (sorry – not pleasant reading), it would hurt me a bit but the spot would clear up leaving my skin clear again.

    I now think of this when I have a difficult conversation to broach: what is best for the person (i.e. the spot) and our relationship (my skin) – if I approach the conversation in the right way by keeping to the facts and not become personal (i.e. when the white head starts to show)? The conversation may hurt a bit (squeezing), but at least it will be over and done with and the healing can begin.  If however I do nothing, or hint, or get someone else to mention the issue for me then we may become entrenched and the issue may well fester (as my zits did)!

    I hope someone finds this useful!

    Hazel Stimpson.

  2. Why difficult to comfront others?

    What I have learnt througout the years is if you decide not to talk about it , people will never know what they have done/ or haven’t done/said etc. I feel that this is not fair neither for me nor forthe others  who may have the same treatment by the same pesron.


    In that case you will be burning by yourself ( like a candle) and these people will never notice how you feel.

    The worst thing can be that  they may notice what is happening but as you are not brave enough to say anything they will carry on what they are doing/saying.

    When I realised that is the fact and I should let it get the colleague of mine away I had to tell her what has been bothering me for a while. I was polite and considered and I talked to her in a nice manner and without getting angry. At the ned of the conversation she apologised not once, more than once. She even sent me an e-mail and a card for an apology.

     I know I can not trust that person again , but I am hoping that she will be more careful in the future about  what she says and does.


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Heather Townsend


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