Leaders who avoid conversations that could be difficult are missing the best opportunities to help others grow. They rationalize their reluctance and then claim their excuses are “undeniable truths.” Below are the excuses I list out in my book, The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.
I have heard these excuses around the world no matter if direct communications is culturally accepted or not. If you are coaching a leader or in a leadership position yourself, see if you can catch the person or yourself using these excuses to avoid important but difficult conversations. Then share this post with others who might be using these excuses.
Excuse #1. My employees don’t want me to ask questions. They just want me to give them answers so they can get back to work. This is a myth of convenience. If you prefer not to spend the time on development conversations and fear challenging people to think differently, you will tell this story. But people enjoy learning and improving more than they like being dependent on you. According to the research compiled by Daniel Pink for his best-selling book, Drive, two of the three major motivators of high performance are autonomy and mastery. If you want continuous great results, you need to continuously expand their minds.
Excuse #2. If people need something from me or don’t understand something, they will ask. No matter what your title is, people might feel uncomfortable letting you know they can’t figure something out. They might have a history of other bosses, parents, and teachers belittling them for not knowing everything. Or they are just afraid they will look weak or stupid in your eyes. Consider asking questions such as, “Is there anything that isn’t clear that I could help you with?” “Do you foresee any challenges that could be a problem down the road?” “What would be the best thing I could do to support you right now?” Help them share their thoughts with you by being curious and making it safe to reveal their concerns.
Excuse #3. No one is complaining, so everything is fine. You may be a good leader but you aren’t perfect. Leaders who don’t spend time sitting with their people and asking questions about how things are going are out of touch with the challenges their people face. When you keep your fingers on the pulse of your team by asking about their challenges, opinions, and concerns, you will know what they need to maintain motivation.
Excuse #4. If a good person does something bad, it won’t happen again. Trust them to self-correct. This is the most common rationalization for avoiding what could be a difficult conversation. Whether you worry that people won’t like you or they will react poorly and you won’t know what to do, you need to let people know when their actions have had an undesirable outcome. The sooner you share this information, the better. Then if you sense resistance, you can transition the conversation to embrace a coaching approach where you hope they will discover and commit to new actions to get the outcome they truly desire.
Excuse #5. The best employees want to be left alone to do their work. Yes, you have problems to solve, but high achievers want positive feedback, too. They want recognition for their good work. They want a steady stream of interesting projects with indicators of success. And they want you to challenge their thinking so they can continuously grow. Don’t risk losing your best people. Have conversations to grow their minds on a regular basis.
When you trust in people’s capabilities for learning and growth, why wouldn’t you want to help them rise above their current proficiency? This should be your highest priority as a leader. Effective leaders hold regular conversations with their employees to develop their minds, not just their skills.
Whether you are a leader, coach, parent, or good friend, there is a model and methods you can use for these conversations plus two chapters of case studies to help see the techniques in action in The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs.