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Why uncomfortable conversations matter

By Craig Johns | |4 minute read

How often do you avoid uncomfortable conversations in your life? We see, hear, and even feel something that isn’t quite right, but we don’t speak up.

Too often in the workplace, employees prefer to keep the peace as they’re afraid to speak up due to fear of retribution or damaging relationships.

In a world where quiet quitting and avoidance of difficult conversations are commonplace, isn’t it time to create a work environment where uncomfortable conversations are not only encouraged but also supported?

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Imagine the shift in company culture and our confidence if we knew we could speak up, safe in the knowledge that it wouldn’t damage how others see us.

The result of people not speaking up is that mistakes happen, tension is created, and relationships are strained. Sometimes, opportunities are missed because our egos don’t let us see the bigger picture, or it creates a negative culture. It can also mean that talent goes unseen, someone’s mental health is affected, and people feel like they don’t belong.

Today’s leaders need the awareness and EQ that comes from observing people’s behaviours; they need to invite contributions from everyone in the meeting and actively allocate time and space for other people’s ideas and opinions.

We need to reserve judgement when people share. Instead of reacting, respond with curiosity, acknowledge people for sharing, allow others to add to the conversation, and spend less time talking and more time listening in meetings.

So, how do you speak up and have a courageous conversation?

  1. First, create a slight interruption and a space in the conversation.
  2. Then pause, set a serious tone and introduce the subject you want to share by briefly describing the issue.
  3. Then, allow time for people to absorb it, and if appropriate, provide more detail or a response.

Remember, it’s important to separate the problem from the person by using sentence starters such as “I would like to share an observation”, “I have noticed”, “What if we could?” or “Have we considered?”.

And just as important as knowing when to speak up, I believe we also need to know when not to speak up.

If you feel a level of hesitation, ask yourself if your comment would be better left for a one-on-one conversation. Are you trying to show how intelligent you are, or are you trying to empower others on your team by being an advocate? If speaking up is just about your ego, then it probably won’t serve you.

Creating a culture where it is encouraged, accepted and expected that people speak up when they feel uncomfortable, unsure or would like to share a different perspective is a collective journey and one we all need to play a part in.

The key here is in the four C’s – for all difficult conversations: be clear, be calm, be considerate and be compassionate.

Take the time to get to know your team, not just as colleagues, but as people – and as you reflect, grow and learn from those around you, you will become courageous by default.

By Craig Johns, workplace culture and leadership expert

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