Why avoiding difficult conversations is bad for business

blog Feb 24, 2021

This is one of the topics I most often get asked about.

I see business owners, leaders and managers struggling with this one all the time: tackling difficult conversations with staff. Usually this comes after a period of avoiding that difficult conversation which is what we’re going to spend a bit of time today looking at in depth.

If you’re anything like me, conflict is not something you run headfirst toward with arms wide open to embrace - that’s exactly why tough conversations are hard. That dreaded feeling in the pit of your stomach, sleepless nights, anxiety, avoiding the staff member and putting off THAT conversation, if not avoiding it entirely.

You are absolutely not alone.

Even with my experience, I don’t like having these conversations either. I never have, and while I’m definitely better at tackling these tough conversations, it doesn’t mean I like it any more than I did before - I just developed the skills to get better at having them. 


These skills are essential for all business owners, leaders and managers to have in their toolkit because you work with people - and tough conversations are part of the package. There will inevitably be issues that arise, large and small, that will have you groaning inwardly and wishing you had someone else who could take care of it for you. The longer you leave it, the harder it gets and the more damage it could be causing your business in productivity, staff morale, and sustainability.


So what exactly could we consider a tough conversation in the workplace?


They could look like any or all of the following:

  •  Conversations about staff performance or conduct
  • Situations or discussions where you feel uncomfortable or don’t know what to say
  • Resolving complaints, grievances and conflict between your team/s
  • Bearing bad news - firing an employee, talking to unsuccessful candidates
  • Delivering difficult information around company decision making and priorities
  • Situations where there is a lot of uncertainty


These are just some of the big picture areas where we could find ourselves needing to tackle a tough conversation - and you might have identified other areas already too.


While it’s not always easy, when you’re in the business of being in business, the bottom line is these tough conversations need to be had. More often than not, you will be the person who has to have them.


What happens when you put off, or completely avoid, having these conversations?

  • The short answer is: nothing good. The reality is the situation is far more likely to get worse when you avoid having these conversations and you haven’t created opportunity for change, learning or growth.


  • It also won’t go away. In fact the longer you leave it, the more emotionally charged the issue and required conversation becomes, often ending with a whole raft of confused issues rolling into one. You forget what the core issue was that you needed to discuss, nothing gets resolved properly and your business suffers as a result. 
  • You might limit your options later. Putting off performance discussions, for example, might limit your options for a timely termination, depending on the legislation you need to follow. Time and time again employers are seeking to terminate a perpetually underperforming employee, but are forced to take the long road having failed to have these difficult performance discussions when the performance issues actually took place.
  • It’s not fair on the employee. Employees fundamentally want to know what we expect of them, and how they are performing against those expectations. Despite what we might wish, they can’t read our minds. If we, as leaders, fail to have these conversations we are failing to be the leader our employees deserve. We are robbing them of the opportunity to understand and improve, and be the best employees they can be. 
  • It’s not fair on their colleagues. Ever worked in a team where it was clear as day the rest of you were picking up the slack for one of your colleagues? You know it and your manager knows it - but they don’t do anything about it? Have you experienced the frustration, the culture decline, and the resentment rise? As leaders we have a responsibility to the rest of our team to do the right thing and have the conversation.
  • It’s not fair on you. At the end of the day, the impetus to have this tough conversation will weigh heaviest on you. You have enough on your plate running a business and leading a team, why make your life more stressful by putting off this conversation? The sleepless nights won’t go away, the stress levels won’t decline, the anxiety won’t abate, getting this done will be a weight off your shoulders.



So, what do you do?


I don’t encourage avoiding the conversation. As we’ve spoken about, the longer you leave it unaddressed, the harder it will become and the more time you end up feeling uncomfortable, anxious, frustrated. We want to minimise your discomfort, that of your staff AND ensure that your business is able to keep ticking along without major internal disruptions.


Here are my top tips for tackling that difficult conversation.

  • Be courageous.

This is where you need to have the courage to lead.

  • Pick your time and place.

This is not a conversation to have in the kitchen whilst making a coffee.

  • Be clear.

What is the outcome you’re looking for at the end of this conversation?

  • Listen.

Seek first to understand when you broach the issue with them.

  • Be solutions focused.
    Have a clear and focused ideal outcome.
  • Loop back.
    Loop back around to ensure you’ve covered off your key talking points.


For more insight into how to have these difficult conversations, download your free copy of my tackling tough conversations guide - www.peoplepoweredbusiness.com.au/tough


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