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Why are difficult conversations so difficult?!

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

If you’re like most leaders, you likely find giving feedback one of the most difficult aspects of your job. That dreaded sense of needing to tell someone something that they're not going to want to hear can be overwhelming.

In my many years advising human resources and people management teams, I’ve developed a very simple framework that you can implement and execute more successful “difficult” conversations. More about this here.

So why do difficult conversations feel so… difficult.

It’s because we’re HUMAN.

Humans have evolved and thrived over the years because we’re social beings (we’re not fast, big or hairy like other animals). We’ve survived because of the social bonds we create and our natural ability to have empathy for others and to avoid conflict (when we aren’t in a position to win)!

Being a social species means almost certain death if we’re ostracised from the group.

In other words, we have evolved to shy away from conflict and avoid situations that may cause upset or trauma for others, or cause us to be flung out in the cold.

So what makes feedback easier?

One human quality that makes giving feedback much easier is TRUST. The more you trust someone, the easier it is.

Think about sitting down with your partner, or brother or even a best friend, if feels so easy to say “mate you need a shower” or “you’re being a jerk”. However in the workplace, we’re unable to be so casual and direct about our feedback like we are with close family and friends.

So make building trust your priority if you're keen on more harmonious conversation.

I know this won't come as a shock to you, but mindset and preparation are both key when it comes to having difficult conversations.


Your mindset could be along the lines of "this conversation will allow me to build even more trust with, Gary". Or "having this conversation with Gary will allow him the opportunity to respond, grow, develop" you get the picture.


Next is preparation. Particularly get prepared for a) Your first sentence, and b) Your main expectations ongoing. Also preparing for emotional response, resistance and preparing to coach and support are other key tools.


So next time you’ve got butterflies in your stomach about giving feedback, you can rest assured you're normal (and human). It's just your lizard brain letting you know you this conversation needs a growth mindset and preparation. Every conversation is an opportunity to build trust, safety and even deeper relationships.

Reach out with your questions or comments - I'd love to hear your stories on what's worked for you.

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