Having Difficult Conversations at Work

6 years ago by in Action Not Words, Featured Articles, Leadership

I am always surprised at how many times adults in business fail to address something head-on. Why is it that polished professional sometimes can’t have difficult conversations?

Is it because they know they aren’t right? Is it because they’d rather do the behind-your-back thing versus actually solve a problem by addressing it directly?

Whatever the reason, after all my years in business I am still shocked to hear about how much this happens. Seemingly shining beacons of leadership in business fall to pieces and teenage antics instead of using their skills to solve a problem or give good constructive feedback.

“Many times there is a psychological reason for this,” said Dr. Paula Reed a workplace psychologist. “Often it comes from a place or feeling of inferiority. Some professionals may outwardly appear confident but internally have doubts. They so worry about their own internal dialogue they can’t address these issues head-on.”

Reed’s point makes sense. But what about those people who are confident and aren’t a mess inside?

“Just like any other segment of society, the professional in the work environment has all the same problems of the rest of society,” Reed said. “There are narcissists, manipulators and just flat-out bad people in the world.”

That certainly hits home with me but still I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t try and solve a probelm directly in the workplace.

“Offices are political places and people have been scarred so they’re apprehensive to tackle issues sometimes,” Reed said. “That said, it’s a wider societal problem where we’re seeing people of all ages refusing to take responsibilities for their actions.”

Moreover leadership – or a lack of it – contributes to the problem. Often offices include backdoor manuevers and a lack of a chain of command. If a work environment doesn’t support that chain of command, the more people will go “around” the problem to solve it versus actually solving it.

“This is the old ‘go around you to your boss’ trick,” Reed laughs. “Some know its faster and easier to get what they want by addressing the problem over your head. Of course this shows failure on the side of the senior leader and the employee lodging such a complaint. It’s avoiding confrontation or difficult conversation yet again.”

As someone who has been fortunate not to have to deal with such office politics in my career, it’s harder for me to understand. If you’re not happy with an employee or coworker, be a big boy or girl and talk to them.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

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2 Responses to “Having Difficult Conversations at Work”


Don Martelli
June 6, 2010

Generally, peeps don't line confrontation so it's easier to send an email, do the back door stuff and generally avoid the drama at all costs — which really fuels the drama, ironically enough.

Good post and good food for thought.

Don Martelli
June 6, 2010

Generally, peeps don't line confrontation so it's easier to send an email, do the back door stuff and generally avoid the drama at all costs — which really fuels the drama, ironically enough.

Good post and good food for thought.

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