Here’s How to Conquer the Hard Conversations You’d Rather Avoid

Hard conversations may be a fact of business life but that doesn’t mean we look forward to them. Just the opposite. We avoid them to avoid causing even more problems, to avoid hurt feelings, and mostly, as Nick Doctor says, “Because we want people to like us.”

What’s wrong with that, explains Doctor, Chief of Community Development & Policy for the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is that it leads to confusion and a lack of risk-taking by your team. By avoiding difficult conversations, people are uncertain how to proceed or even if they have permission to move forward.

Avoidance is one of Doctor’s “five stages of discomfort” surrounding difficult conversations. It may work temporarily, but eventually there’s a breaking point, which leads to his second stage — the cattle call. That’s where “you have to get everybody and their mother involved in the meeting… to work through a hard conversation.” And the first thing that happens, he says, is the third stage: “the airing of grievances.” His last two stages are the shooting holes in the solution you propose and finally, the begrudging acceptance that still requires you to “win the culture war of trying to make this an acceptable idea.”

Doctor doesn’t leave us there. He spends the rest of his 5 minutes on stage offering ideas on how to successfully hold those hard conversations. We won’t detail them all here. It’s there in the video. But here’s one you won’t see coming: Celebrate Festivus. If you’re a fan of the 90’s Seinfeld series, you can guess what this means. For everyone else, click into this link if you want a hint.

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