- More than 80% of workers are dreading one "scary" conversation, according to a poll of 529 respondents from VitalSmarts. A quarter of respondents have procrastinated their dreaded conversation for six months, while 1 in 10 respondents have done so for an entire year.
- Respondents said they avoid tough discussions by evading the person in question all together (50%), circling the topic whenever they face the person with whom they need to speak (37%), thinking about quitting their job or taking a different one (37%), or actually quitting their job (11%).
- "Scary conversations are crucial conversations," Joseph Grenny, who conducted the poll, said in a news release. "In these moments, most people run the other way because experience tells them the other person will be angry or defensive. And yet, our research shows the select few who know how to speak up candidly and respectfully — no matter the scary topic — can solve problems while also preserving relationships. As a result, they are considered among the top performers in their organization."
People may tremble at the thought of having a hard conversation, but experts say that doesn't mean they can't overcome their fear. "Courage is teachable, observable and measurable," Brené Brown, speaker and researcher at the University of Houston, told attendees of the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference in June. She added that tough conversations calling for corrective action are difficult but necessary, and that although managers may not have the skills to initiate these conversations, HR can help them develop these skills. In short, HR leaders can create work environments that teach and encourage employees to speak up and address the hard-to-discuss topics.
As Brown suggested, the right training may enable employees to develop the courage to initiate and take part in serious discussions. But this means employers must provide training and ensure the right workers get it. By prizing a culture of learning, organizations can encourage such training and build workers' confidence in asking for the kind of training they feel they need.
In the meantime, VitalSmarts offered six tips HR can share with workers who need help facing their fears of having hard conversations. Workers can:
- Talk privately face-to-face.
- Assume the best in others as if they were friends.
- Start the discussion by describing the problem.
- Share facts — not assumptions or conclusions.
- Ask for the person-in-question's view of the situation.