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Why Difficult Conversations are Important to Have

Why difficult conversations are so important to have

One of the necessary skills to be an impactful leader is the ability to navigate through those difficult conversations with others. Without these conversations, productivity can stagnate, people will stop growing and feedback will become more a chore than a continuous avenue to learn, grow and improve.

To do this you have to be comfortable with disruption and tension in the conversation. The mindset has to switch to positive when disruption is  created and not an issue knowing the end result will create change of some sort to build productivity, learning and better performance levels.

However, this often is challenging for many. For instance,  when you are approached and someone asks why you did something a certain way, our human nature is to develop a response that fits the situation even if the response doesn’t make complete sense. These quick interpretations actually work against us in a neurological sense creating that narrow minded thinking.

To help people think differently, you have to disturb this natural way our thoughts process. As a leader this is best done by challenging the beliefs that created the frames and getting to the underlying fears, needs, and desires that are keeping someone having emotional intelligence to listen to the conversation. They will not actively explore, examine, and change their beliefs and behavior if the conversation continues to be difficult if they cannot see the conceptual framework outside of their fears and defense mechanisms coming into play.

This is where that awkward discomfort zone starts. Once behavior and actions are questioned they may burst into instant nervousness, laughter, sadness  before any insight begins as to why the conversation is taking place. If you act on this moment by helping to solidify the new awareness, their mindset will start to shift. If you do not facilitate this process when you see this starting, the ego will step in and justification of the behavior will begin.


This moment of uncertainty is when people are most open to learning. An emotional reaction occurs indicating a chance for the person to develop a new perspective, see a different solution to the problem, and potentially grow as a person. This is a quick moment of vulnerability where their minds will be open to listening and soliciting solutions to change.

The leader’s discomfort is secondary to the process, however. For true shifts in thinking and behavior to occur, you must be willing to challenge a person’s beliefs, interrupt his patterns, and reset logic even when it feels uncomfortable and not worry about your discomfort.

Realize there will be no one set reaction, but a range of possibilities. The realization could be minimal, with the person responding, “Oh, yeah, I hear what you are saying.” On the other end, a person could gasp with embarrassment and then ask for time to think about what occurred, especially if he or she did not recognize the impact until that moment. Many times people will laugh at themselves or may get angry when it is difficult for them to accept the truth.

Consider your own experiences. That sudden new solution to a problem probably didn’t come to you as you stood over your desk studying every detail or ruminating over previous conversations. That solution, reality hit, most likely came as a result of a disruptive question and deep reflection initiated by someone else.


This is how the mechanics of our thoughts and brain processing happens. Our brains try to protect us and will block self-imposed exploration. When someone challenges your reasoning and asks you the powerful question that breaks down your protective frame, your brain is forced to reorder. For a moment, it creates an awkward space. You might feel a pinch of anger or sadness. There must be an emotional stake for restructuring to occur.

At this point as a leader, you need to ensure there is a level of trust and safety so the person will not think you are being manipulative or trying to hurt their outcomes. This comes with having honest constructive feedback, and asking questions to spark activity in the brain causing changes in  their perception, self-image, and behavior. This is what will create the mindset shift to accept the feedback rather than placing defensive walls up to justify behaviors and actions.

Timing of these conversations is also key. If you find and individual complaining they are stuck, resisting change, complaining about a specific situation and see he or she needs to focus more on trying new solutions and getting out of comfort zones, this is an opportunity to have that difficult conversation to break the cycle. Start by presenting solutions, opportunities to unstick and focus on the results and how it will feel better than staying in the stagnate cycle they are experiencing. Listen to their concerns and take the approach of learning from them and something they may be happening you are not aware of  to create focus based solutions.

This means as leaders spending more time with their employees, helping them think through problems, see situations more strategically, and grow beyond their limitations.  When engaging in these conversations, perception of status should not get in the way. He or she must feel you are an equal partner in the journey and understand their contributions.   When you begin your conversation, there are necessary steps you must take to establish trust and positive intention so when you provoke discomfort, both short- and long-term results are constructive.

This comes with providing honest feedback, using reflective and informative statements, and asking insightful questions to break down barriers and create awareness. The skill development includes methods for observing your own processing of the conversation and reactions as well as hearing others. Listening is a key component in this process.


The more leaders are willing to have these conversations and provide constructive feedback, the greater the chance for innovation creativity and the continuous desire to grow. This results in more engagement and retention thus impacting the bottom-line results. A bonus is this will open up proactive conversations in which you and those you collaborate with will experience a courageous and productive workplace.


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