26th January 2023 | Written by

Three steps to conquering difficult workplace conversations

Eighty percent of employees live in fear of some specific, difficult conversation at work. In fact, instead of just speaking up, people are choosing to:

  • avoid the other person at all costs 
  • dance around the topic whenever they speak to the person in question 
  • consider quitting and taking a different job
  • actually quit their job 

Read that last one again. People would rather quit their jobs than have a difficult conversation. That is insane – especially because 99 percent of the worst things that happen to us only ever happen in our heads. So this means, people are prepared to uproot their whole professional lives based on a one-percent possibility of the scary thing happening. 

We can’t operate like this anymore. So here are my three steps for having these kinds of conversations, beginning with:

1. Identify the key components of your Uncomfortable Work 

There’s a difficult conversation that needs to be had with an employee and all you can think about is what they are going to think of you during and after said conversation. They’re going to think . . .

  • I’m a bad boss
  • I don’t care about or value them
  • I’m mean

That’s the emotion known as Fear setting in. But, again, it’s so important to remember that 99 percent of the worst things that happen to us only ever happen in our heads. So, here’s my question: what would happen to you if your associates actually did think any of those things? Here are the most common responses I hear:

  • Word will get back to my boss, and . . .
  • My performance review will be terrible, then . . .
  • I’ll be fired and have no place to live or money for food and water!
  • My family and friends will leave me and I’ll be unsuccessful, unsafe, and alone.

Ah, there it is: The Doom Script. Even I admit, that last bullet point is a 10 out of 10 on the fear scale – it’s one of our biggest fears as human beings. Fortunately, on a logical scale from 1: things likely to happen to 10: things that are incredibly unlikely to happen . . . this scenario is really only about a 1 out of 10 – aka: very unlikely to happen. 

Now for a little math lesson.

Take that Fear Scale number (10) and subtract the Logical Scale number (1). That gives us a (9). Multiply that by (100) and you see how much more power you’re giving a situation than it deserves. 

In the example above, you’re giving that fear a whopping 900% more power than it deserves!

Now that you know how much unmerited power you’re giving your fear, it’s time to have the difficult conversation.

2. Use the Three Principles of Addictive Leadership to lead yourself through the conversation and Say No when you need to

Modern business culture has everyone hooked on saying yes, which makes difficult conversations nearly impossible. How do we clear that path? First, you’ve got to commit to Rigorous Authenticity.

For example, a client in Addictive Leadership shared this Say No victory

 Next, Surrender the Outcome. Once the difficult conversation begins, you can’t control the person’s reaction. That’s when you have to resist feelings of powerlessness and fear, and remind yourself you’re empowered to Say No. 

Last, Do the Uncomfortable Work. Push through the uncomfortable conversation and maintain your position of no – that’s a sign of a great self-leadership, which signals to others that you’re a great leader in general.

3. Practice Makes Perfect – So Start by Saying No to Something

Whenever you’re confronted with the need to have a difficult conversation, you can start with this simple exercise. In this example, we can pretend there’s a meeting you want to Say No to. 

Take out a sheet of paper and write CAN’T on the top left and CAN on the top right, then draw a line down the middle.

Start off by writing a list of things you can’t control about the meeting – such as:

  • I can’t control that there are people who want to have the meeting
  • I can’t control the reaction of people when I Say No to the meeting

Then, on the right side, jot down the things you can control, such as:

  • I can control whether or not I attend
  • I can control how I Say No to the meeting – I can do it politely, respectfully, and still be Rigorously Authentic.
  • I can control how I reinvest that time into something more valuable

When you physically see the things you can control in list form, it gives you the confidence to Say No to the wrong things on your calendar so that you can open up the time and mental capacity it takes to focus on the right things – the highest priority tasks on your plate.

Do you feel like Saying No in a professional setting is too much to tackle at once? Fair. Then focus on what you can control in your own little world, at home.

  • Say No to the PTO meeting that doesn’t fit your schedule
  • Say No the restaurant you don’t want to go to
  • Say No to Saturday plans when you’d rather just chill at home

The key is to just start – Say No somewhere, to something.

There’s an art and science to having difficult conversations. I’m here to teach that – and more – through my Addictive Leadership program. 

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