Workplace Engagement

Engaging Bravely: Understanding the importance of hard conversations

By February 26, 2020 One Comment

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

We are all of us busy, juggling 101 things … at home, at work and not to mention all the other things we do to enhance our communities.

So, when problems emerge most of us look for the easy option to deal with it. The easy option takes less energy, right? Isn’t that what everyone does? We just want a quick fix, wave the magic wand and the fairy-tale arrives.

For some the easy option is to ignore the problems, just keep charging on and doing. For others the easy option means telling people what to do – no consultation, no engagement; perhaps the easy option is getting someone else to deal with it – HR, a Judge, anyone really, just not you.

What these options have in common is that they all demonstrate an inability to engage in the hard conversations. An inability to take responsibility for problem solving – problem solving is hard work and it is so much easier to blame.

Why don’t we want to have the hard conversations?

Well – pretty simple really. The hard conversations are just that – they are hard, uncomfortable, difficult, uncertain and often messy. You are vulnerable in them because you can’t control how the other person will respond and if you don’t have the confidence to know how to handle the risks – well it is safer not to step into them. When we step into hard conversations, we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers. For many high achievers, it is really hard to acknowledge that you may not have all the answers.

It does seem strange though – that people would rather stay in the place of discomfort rather than taking a chance a resolving the problem. But we are creatures of habit and we justify it with ‘better the devil we know’ or ‘it’s just easier this way”. But the data doesn’t agree with you. When we avoid these hard conversations we actually increase the risk of conflict and its long-term costs.

When we are unable to engage in the messiness of difference, we plant the seeds for mistrust, blame and division. Teams are silenced, different options are discouraged and diversity is sacrificed for conformity. It becomes unsafe to engage in the risky business of critical dialogue and strategic thinking. Whether consciously or not, the inability to engage in gritty conversations means that people no longer feel safe to have real, honest and critical discussions.

Gritty conversation are hard because they are the conversations that really matter to us. They are about how we feel, what we value and our expectations of a given situation. They are also the places where so often there is confusion, assumptions and differences of opinions. These hard conversations are rarely about facts but rather are about application.

The doing. The action. The feeling.

When we repress these hard conversations, the unintended results can include dysfunctional cultures, workplace personality clashes and stagnation of growth.

  • When we ignore poor behaviour in the workplace because we are getting results, we silently endorse inappropriate and/or bullying actions within the work place. This quickly creates culture problems and will ultimately impact productivity.
  • When we are unable to explore different points of opinions such as how a board positions future business, we risk failing our legal and corporate responsibilities.
  • When it is no longer ok to ask respectful and critical questions of community leaders for fear of vilification on-line, we undermine the foundations of a free society.

Whether consciously or not, the inability for gritty conversations means that people no longer feel safe to engage.

Gritty conversations are critical if we are to keep moving forward as they lay the foundations for how we make our decisions. These conversations create the conditions for trust, growth and innovation. This is where creativity and change emerge from.

These conversations are important because:

  • They enable us to identify our interests
  • They foster a trust-based team
  • They help avoid ‘group think’
  • They increase creativity – which leads to innovation

Great leadership empowers a team to engage in these conversations with the result been creative, resilient and innovative outcomes. As a team you will be better able to weather the storms because you trust the capacity of everyone to problem solve not blame.

It takes courage to engage in these sometimes painful, vulnerable and deeply honest conversations. And you’re right – it isn’t an easy option. But to step up into and hold a space for a real, hard and challenging conversation matters. It matters at home, at work and within our communities – so hold that space.

Stay tuned for more examples of how to facilitate these conversations effectively and if you would like to attend the Gritty Conversations Retreat in Adelaide in March 2020 – click the link here to find out more.

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