Difficult Conversations – why so difficult?

In this series, I’m going to help you understand why difficult conversations are so difficult and share an approach that will have you and the person involved feeling positive about the process, the plan to move forward and your ongoing relationship.

So, let’s explore why difficult conversations are so difficult in the first place?

Well, leaders get taught traditional approaches to improve performance like appraisals and formal performance discussions. Which, although important, can inevitably create negative emotions for both the leader and the person on the receiving end. This is especially so, if they aren’t built on a regular cadence of ongoing feedback, that includes the good, the bad and the indifferent as it relates to performance.

The science (and common sense) suggests that regular coaching, which recognizes all aspects of performance is far more beneficial & productive than traditional approaches to improving performance.

And one thing I wanted to clear up is that the shit sandwich, which is where you sandwich negative feedback between two pieces of positive feedback, doesn’t work. That’s because you and the person involved know it’s coming and you are both in psychological and physical defense mode before you even get past the positive spin, but why is that?

Well firstly, in evolutionary terms our ancestor’s survival depended on how attuned they were too negative or bad events. Our ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response (and the associated release of ‘stress hormones’ adrenalin and cortisol) still lives on despite the fact that we aren’t regular prey items anymore.

When you add in an unhealthy dose of negativity bias (our predisposition to let negative thoughts and emotions have a disproportionate effect on us) we have a brain that is constantly scanning for and focused on what’s wrong, rather than what’s right and any potential threat perceived or otherwise.

So when we approach those tough conversations without the right priming, preparation and mindset the same physical, emotional and psychological responses are triggered, which seriously limits the prospect of having a productive conversation and positive outcome.

Now I will cover the specifics of how to have a tough conversation in the next video, but before that step, one thing you’ll need is a strong relationship, built on trust and fairness.

So make sure as I mentioned at the start that you are having regular coaching and feedback sessions on performance, that is balanced, fair, build trust, allow for recognition and help people grow.