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!

Why Difficult Conversations Require a Balance of Honesty AND Kindness

got balance

The strongest relationships weather storms. They deal with conflict, disagreement. They aren’t always pretty, but they are always real.

Healthy conversations are the same. Truly healthy conversations are based on honesty AND kindness, not one or the other.  Like a chair with a missing leg, conversations that don’t value both characteristics are bound to collapse at some point. Healthy conversations cannot exist without the weaving of both honesty and kindness into them.

With only kindness, our conversations  avoid issues.  Anything that might cause pain, discomfort, hurt feelings, anger or conflict will be skipped in an effort to be kind above all else.

The moment kindness trumps truth, we pay a price. Every bit of information that appears “not nice” gets sugar-coated, or toned down, or simply censored altogether.  Such watered-down communications are inauthentic, too worried about sensitivities. Like the famous line in the movie, Top Gun, we “can’t handle the truth!” Waving the flag of kindness, we gloss over  anything that might cause the smallest blip.

But everyone pays a price when the hard truth is avoided. Communication floats over the surface. It avoids. Conversations based only on kindness are weak, filtered, and rarely very truthful, entirely avoiding what matters most.

The reverse is also true. Honest conversations that lack kindness are just as unbalanced and ineffective, but to the other extreme.

Conversations that value ONLY honesty have the potential to be brutal, hurtful and insensitive to feelings.  In my head I still hear my dad bellowing, “Well, I have to be honest!” as license to voice his opinions thoughtlessly as if honesty made it ok. It didn’t. It always hurt.

honesty kindness

Honesty and kindness need to be married into conversation to create healthy communications.

Together, the pair is powerful.  By speaking the truth we express what matters, what’s real. We get to issues. We have the opportunity to work through the awkwardness, the difficulty and come to understanding.

It isn’t always pretty or comfy but delivering communications with kindness AND honesty means we will not sidestep an issue. We will not ignore the truth simply because it might be upsetting.

What we will do, however, is opt to speak truthfully AND graciously with awareness.  Awareness of how it might sound and feel.  We’ll speak our words truthfully AND with thought.

By being honest, we face challenges and gain understanding.

By being kind, we deliver our communications thoughtfully and with awareness.

Combining the two qualities in the office and at home that takes practice and commitment. It takes courage to always speak the truth, knowing it might be difficult to hear.  Knowing it will feel great when we’re through the conversation encourages us to speak up. It’s a great motivator.

Do you struggle more with the “being honest” part of healthy conversations? Or is your challenge being sensitive and aware of others’ feelings?  Not sure? Just ask someone close to you. I promise, they’ll know and if you ask, they’ll tell you. Let me know you’re out there, tell me what you think. Agree or disagree?

 

Words Heard

“I’ve found that if I say what I’m really thinking and feeling, people are more likely to say what they really think and feel. The conversation becomes a real conversation.” by Carol Gilligan

…and that is the whole point of The Way to Say It thinking!