Stop Avoiding Your Difficult Conversations, Clean the Slate

clean slate 2In some stories, feelings change or circumstances change. Connections, employment, and friendships end with no warning. There’s no explanation. Nothing is ever said.

One woman told me a dear friend of ten years suddenly stopped calling. When she reached out to see if all was well, her calls went unreturned. She never heard from her friend again.  Years later she still feels hurt. She still wonders.   

A painting contractor told me of a long-time trusted employee who worked for him. One Sunday he called this man to review the week’s schedule. The man wasn’t available.  He didn’t call back. The contractor never heard from his employee again, even though the family confirms the man is fine.

Another woman shared that she talked with her out-of-state nephew by phone about his visiting her. One day she emailed him to confirm dates. No response. Repeated efforts to connect went nowhere. He is still at the same address and phone, but two years later she has not heard back.  She’s still hurt by the lack of response or explanation.

A young client was asked by a college friend to be her bridesmaid one year later.  She gladly said yes. Two years have passed since that day, yet my client has still not heard back from her college friend in spite of efforts to connect. She, too, wonders what happened.

On more than one occasion in my corporate career, newly hired employees didn’t show up for their first day of work. Instead, they became unreachable. They never responded to phone calls, never provided an explanation.

The stories are endless in both personal and business settings. They happen on the job. They happen with family members. They happen with friends.

In each case somebody wonders what changed. What happened? What should I do? In time, most people move on and let go, but until they do, it’s confusing, painful and stressful.

don't say nothingAnd it’s all because we’re afraid to face tough conversations. We’re afraid to “just say it.” Usually the excuse is we don’t want to create hurt feelings. But, usually, the truth is we don’t know how to say what needs to be said and we just don’t want to feel so uncomfortable.

What strikes me as so ironic is that when we avoid the conversation to avoid hurting feelings, the other person is hurt anyway. They don’t know what to think. They have no closure or explanation, and there’s no opportunity to learn to avoid a similar situation in the future.

Skipping a difficult conversation does not spare feelings! It does not avoid hurt. It simply avoids your discomfort. Take a stroll down memory lane in your life. What challenging conversations have you skipped to avoid hurting someone, or to avoid your own awkwardness.

It’s never too late to clean up mistakes or misunderstandings. Consider reaching out to people you’ve left hanging. Clean the slate. You don’t necessarily have to rekindle the relationship, though that’s an option. What’s important is saying what didn’t get said and creating closure for both you and them.

Just dive in. Have that difficult conversation you've been avoiding.

Just dive in. Have that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding.

 

I can honestly make these recommendations because I have had these difficult conversations. I have asked hard questions when I didn’t understand someone’s silence. I have gone back and shared my perspective where I had unfinished issues. I’ve cleared things up years after there was a falling out.

And every time I face a difficult conversation, the payoff is worth it. There’s relief.  Stress vanishes. Relationships improve. Conflict diminishes. And every single time, there is some positive element of surprise.  Some bonus I didn’t expect.

Everyone benefits…but especially you! Isn’t it time YOU jumped into that difficult conversation you’ve been avoiding? Just do it!

Put on Your Big Boy Pants: Have that Tough Conversation NOW

road block

Road blocks to difficult conversations exist only in your head!

What’s stopping YOU from having the difficult conversation lurking in your head?  

Is it……?

Procrastination……Fear of rejection……Fear of anger……Embarrassment……Not knowing the way to say it……Fear of reprisal……Shoot the messenger fears……Your own discomfort…..You’re afraid you’ll be emotional……Your fear of their reaction–uh oh!……Not wanting to face the truth……You’re STILL waiting for the right moment……Your refuse to own your own your stuff..….Fear you might lose control……They should come to YOU…..Certainty that YOU’RE right……You are much too hurt……You don’t believe in talking about such things……You can’t admit you were wrong……You’re waiting for THEM to go first……You just don’t know where to begin……You tried already……You think, “Oh, it will all just blow over”……You don’t believe it will make a difference?

ostrich

Is this you?

Whatever the reason is (or reasons) for your delay, the end result is the same. Nothing and I mean NOTHING improves when you avoid an uncomfortable, difficult conversation regardless of all the excuses you make in your head.

According to J.D. Schramm in Harvard Business Review, “Often our fear of having the conversation with somebody about a sensitive subject can be worse than having the conversation itself. We put off bringing up a tough subject because we are waiting for the “perfect opportunity.”

But the uncomfortable truth, the truth we all know, is this:  there is no perfect opportunity. If we wait, the conversation will never happen.

We have to just put on our big boy pants and do it. WE need to make the first move regardless of who spoke last, or who we think is wrong, or exactly what happened, or who we think SHOULD reach out first. We need to take a breath and begin.

go sign

Follow these tips to help you get started on that difficult conversation you’re avoiding:

  1. Write out your thoughts – If time allows, write. Write how you think you’d say it, without the anger and without the judgment. Consider it brainstorming. You’ll find both things not- to-say, and things very well said. Use your writing as a guide.
  2. Make a commitment.  If you’ve been procrastinating, set a time frame. Say to yourself (or even better, to someone who will hold you accountable) I’ll have this conversation by tomorrow, two days from now, a week from now. Just set a date that is close enough to break through your procrastination.
  3. Come up with a few good openers. Make sure you have one or two good opening lines to start off the conversation. Rule of thumb is:  be real, express yourself honestly (even if you have to say you are somewhat nervous), and be direct. Get right to what you want to talk about. No beating around the bush.
  4. Keep it private. If the topic is stressful enough to qualify as a tough conversation to you, regardless of what anyone else thinks, then privacy is a must. Never begin one of these talks in earshot of others, unless they, too, are part of the conversation.
  5. Tolerate imperfection. These talks are challenging. That means they often won’t be perfect. With that in mind, congratulate yourself for facing the issue instead of judging yourself for not saying it perfectly.  Even an average job of a difficult conversation IS an accomplishment.

None of us can avoid difficult conversations in life. They are a part of life. Unless you are a hermit, you might as well begin to develop this skill now.

Instead of avoiding the conversation, you’ll avoid the drama that unexpressed issues create. Problems, misunderstanding and disagreements not brought to light, create relationship issues and ongoing stress. As Kevin O’Leary (also known as “Mr. Wonderful” from The Shark Tank), would say, “Stop the madness.” Have the conversation and the sooner you do, the easier it will be.