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Creating Successful Leaders

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It’s no surprise that many of us tend to avoid difficult conversations. Why would we want to make ourselves uncomfortable or become the subject of someone’s wrath? Why would we want to potentially open a can of worms?

Though difficult conversations are just that—difficult—they are also sometimes necessary for improving the present climate or paving the way to a better future. Though you may be reluctant, or even a little scared, to engage in difficult conversations, oftentimes they are necessary and can actually improve things, going forward.

Here are 4 reasons to dare to hold difficult conversations:

[NOTE: In past blog posts I’ve talked about how to prepare for difficult conversations. See this post about the D4 Model and this newsletter about the 5 P’s of Courage for more…]

1. They can set the record straight

In many workplaces, rumors fly and reality can get twisted or obscured. If you’re in a situation where you’re uncertain of the truth, it’s best to sit down with the people involved and get to the bottom of it. It might be as simple as figuring out who was in charge of a certain report or who neglected to contact a client when that needed to happen. The purpose of this conversation isn’t to place blame, but rather to uncover the truth and begin to problem solve.

This type of conversation can also help you put safeguards in place so that the same unfortunate situation doesn’t happen again. It’s possible that it’s no one’s “fault” and the system simply needs a bit of an overhaul.

2. They can provide forward motion

Sometimes when we fail to confront a difficult situation, that can lead to stagnation. The office might be so hung up or distracted by a single person’s (or a group of people’s) actions that it becomes their primary focus. To get the wagon wheel out of the rut, you need to face the situation head-on and engage in a potentially difficult conversation(s).

EXAMPLE: Let’s say Kim hasn’t been turning in her reports on time, which, in turn affects the rest of her team’s progress. Everyone is upset and productivity is down. To get past this rut, you’ll have to bite the bullet and have a conversation with Kim. It could be that Kim was unaware of her responsibilities or didn’t understand the dominoes affect her tardiness was having. It’s possible Kim has felt unsupported or unmotivated lately (in which case, maybe she’s in the wrong role). Regardless, having this conversation can help move your entire team from a place of stagnation to forward movement and problem-solving.

3. They can start dialogues

You may not truly understand someone’s actions, or what is going on in their head, until you speak with them. It’s possible a situation is more complex than you realized (for instance, maybe someone is constantly late for their 8 a.m. Zoom meetings because they have to drop their kids off at daycare). It’s also possible that the other person hasn’t understood the consequences of their recent actions. Sitting down and having a conversation can help create a bridge of understanding. It can open dialogues and help both sides understand what is broken and how to go about fixing things.

4. They can earn you respect, as a leader

Effective leaders have to make hard decisions and engage in difficult conversations regularly. That’s the reality. If you gain a reputation as someone who avoids problems and lets things “work themselves out,” you won’t gain much respect. If, however, you are known to tackle problems head-on and address issues as soon as you notice them, you’ll be seen as a proactive leader who has a real stake in the wellbeing of your team. What’s more, people will come to understand that you will hold others accountable for their actions and you will act in the best interest of the team. Your people will know you have their backs.

Instead of shying away from difficult conversations, embrace them! Start seeing them as opportunities to have fruitful conversations that move your team forward. Tough conversations can be uncomfortable or daunting, but the rewards are ultimately worth it. This comes with the territory when you’re a leader, and it’s a good idea to make lemonade with whatever lemons the workplace throws at you.


MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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