As the CEO of a small business, I found last year full of opportunities for difficult conversations, those you put off because you just don’t want to face the immediate discomfort and short term fallout from the conversation. In 2020, like many other CEOs, I faced a downturn of business. This required downsizing my staff, and asking existing staff to work outside their comfort zones. A further consequence of COVID was moving out of our office space to work remotely. Each of those situations generated conversations that I either started or was on the receiving end of and fell into the ‘difficult’ category.
Now, on this side of 2020, my company is moving ahead in a different configuration with different perspectives. We have partners who have grown with us, we are very lean and mean which means a much very different vision for the future. We have new products and a revised path to profitability. All in all, those difficult conversations likely put us in a much better place in our growth plan.
So, why do we call them “Difficult Conversations” if having them improves our company’s chances of survival and positions the company to thrive?
Calling them “difficult” sets up an expectation that they will be difficult. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why is delivering or receiving ‘bad news’ at the time so hard, when in the long run, usually it results in arriving in a stronger place?
I propose that for 2021, we change our mindset regarding these conversations.
As leaders, we know that avoidance of difficult issues only amplifies the issue. The issue grows to be the elephant in the room. So, why do we avoid them?
There is probably a unique answer to this question for everyone who poses it to them self. For me, I feel ownership for the success of my staff and my business partners. When someone quits or I have to terminate them, I feel a sense of disappointment. I don’t like that feeling.
Speaking with others, and reading the research, many other people don’t want to create a feeling of discomfort, either in themselves or in the person who is going to have to deal with the consequences of their decision.
Pam Bower, writing for the Huffington Post1, suggests that in situations like these we learn to get comfortable with uncomfortable situations. I think that’s a great suggestion.
Other professionals have to adapt to this concept in order to do their jobs. As I write this I remember the phlebotomist who had to take blood from my newborn’s purple heel at the hospital. Her heel was purple from having been squeezed so many times for blood samples. That poor phlebotomist knew she was going to make that baby cry and upset the new mom. If she avoided difficult situations and conversations, she would not have been effective at her job. I spoke to her about this, and she said that in her mind what she was doing was giving the baby a better chance at life.
It’s a mindset. We all do difficult things to achieve a better outcome. So why not take the same approach to a difficult conversation at work? The objective is to achieve a better outcome.
So, let’s chose to approach these conversations differently in 2021. Stay focused on the longer term outcome, the long term health of our ‘babies’, in this case our businesses.