What makes hard conversations hard?

We ask this question in our Mastering Hard Conversations program because often people don’t give it a great deal of thought and we find understanding what is causing discomfort is very useful.

Some common responses in our workshops include:

  • ‘I don’t like conflict.’
  • ‘Hard conversations put the relationship at risk, and I value the relationship.’
  • ‘The level of emotion makes me feel uncomfortable.’
  • ‘I don’t enjoy upsetting people. I like to be liked. If there’s a risk of upsetting someone, I just avoid going there.’
  • ‘It’s frustrating talking to someone who just doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. It’s not worth the effort.’
  • ‘It’s hard because I have less power and it’s very difficult (and risky) having a conversation with someone who is more powerful than I am.’
  • ‘They’re hard because they require a level of skill that I don’t have; I just feel completely out of my comfort zone.’

So, while many things contribute to making a conversation difficult, the core factors seem to be the high level of emotion (fight/flight response); a lack of confidence in conflict situations (people feel out of their depth); and the power differential (managing up brings certain risks).

Why should you bother having conversations that you find uncomfortable?

You have four principal reasons to push through the discomfort zone:

  1. Organisations expect leaders to have hard conversations.
  2. Failing to have hardconversations can cause significant harm to your team and organisation.
  3. Failing to have hard conversations can be expensive.
  4. Failing to have hard conversations can cause significant damage to individual health and wellbeing.

Feeling confident that you can have hard conversations is important. One of the core aims of Balanced Curve is to help people feel more confident in having hard conversations by providing them with a model, process and tools to navigate action. We help by offering the right programs for your staff, backed up by the book Mastering Hard Conversations: Turning Conflict into Collaboration by Director Mark Rosenberg which was shortlisted in the Australian Business Book Awards 2022.

Mark Rosenberg