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Why Do People Avoid Difficult Conversations?

By Chris Thompson, Director of Business Development, Skillsoft

When you work with other people, it’s guaranteed there will be times when you don’t agree with something someone does or says. There will be times when you have the urge to address an individual and communicate your concerns. But for some reason, people avoid having these difficult conversations.

If you manage people, it’s likely you are providing feedback and having difficult conversations on a regular basis. People tend to have an easier time discussing concerns with people who work for them. That’s part of what they do. But what about the people who don’t work directly for you that you have problems with?

You likely have other people you depend on to help you or your team be successful. Take the marketing team as an example.

If you’re in sales, marketing is a key part of your success. Are you able to have productive debates and discussions with the people in marketing you interact with regularly? Do you point out problems? Or do you accept the status quo and let things slide? Generally speaking, people don’t like conflict.

I’ve found that most people would prefer to take the path of least resistance and not rock the boat too much.

They hold things in, look the other way when they see problems and avoid addressing issues. And I can certainly understand why. It’s not a natural instinct, and it can be uncomfortable, depending on the situation.

One of my favorite business books is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. In the book, Lencioni highlights and discusses five key issues that plague teams and cause decreases in performance, morale and overall team effectiveness. And guess what is highlighted as one of the five dysfunctions of a team? Yes, fear of conflict.

While certain types of conflict can be detrimental to a team, most conflict in a business environment can be healthy.

Healthy conflict spawns productive debate, highlights problems and most importantly, holds people accountable. But the biggest challenge I’ve seen is having an environment that allows people to actually do that.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should become the office bully and call people out on every little thing they do wrong. That probably wouldn’t be good for your long-term career. However, there are ways you can develop a culture that encourages professional and productive debate.

One way to look at it is to focus on the problem or situation itself versus the individual. If there is a problem that needs to be addressed, it’s likely having a negative impact on the business in one way or another. So is it best to let the problem fester and get worse or address it head on? That’s a question only you can answer.

One of the many mistakes I’ve made in my career over and over is seeing problems and not addressing them soon enough. I’ve let things go, not addressed them and that has caused even bigger problems.

Don’t be afraid to debate. Don’t be afraid to call out a problem if you see one. Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings. It’s business, never personal, and that is something you have to keep at the front of your mind at all times.

Skillsoft® Book24x7® BusinessPro™ customers can view Patrick Lencioni’s book and summary with their subscription.

Chris Thompson’s article was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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