The Much-Needed Tough Conversation: Are You Having It?

Your co-worker committed to it, didn’t follow through and the deadline is missed. Your spouse is late again and more trust and respect declines. A critical shortcut was taken by another department and now you’re dealing with a disgruntled customer. There’s a bully in church who uses intimidation and steamrolling to have his way creating an unhealthy and damaging power dynamic. Your boss is known for his lack of communication and care so unity and morale are low. How many of us can relate to situations like these? We have all experienced when people’s choices, patterns and decisions have affected individuals, relationships, trust, attitudes, efficiency, and the overall culture of our homes, our businesses and even our churches. But will we speak up and say anything to bring accountability and uphold healthy dynamics? Most problems that surface such as these usually go back to an underlying cause of an unwillingness or inability to speak up when it’s vitally needed. 

It makes sense that for anything to be strong and stay strong, whether it be a relationship or an organization, there has to be a willingness and ability to have open and honest conversations. The key skill of highly effective parents, teammates, leaders, and people in general is the capacity to address emotionally risky issues in a healthy and beneficial way. The problem is, we’re not holding these conversations, or if we are, we’re not holding them well. But there’s hope for all of us in situations like these! We can learn how to hold these kinds of conversations. It’s true that we can’t be responsible for how others respond to us, but there is a lot to be said about taking responsibility in knowing how to approach and share with others so the message can be more easily received.

There are various skills we can learn in having a tough conversation but all of them hinge on one thing – making the other person feel safe. When we don’t feel safe, we either get quiet or vocal. So, when a family member shuts down during our discussion or a team member gets defensive when asked about a mistake, we know they aren’t feeling safe. In that moment we need to step out of the conversation and reestablish safety. Are we conveying that we care about them, their concerns and their goals? Are they able to trust our motives knowing we want their best in this and that we are for them? Are we conveying respect for them as a person? If not, then they won’t feel safe and moving forward is next to impossible. To foster safety, taking time to prepare for the conversation is wise, examining our own hearts first. During our conversation, conveying care and mutual respect, apologizing when appropriate, bringing clarity of our good intent, and pointing out a purpose we both care about and want to achieve are all things we want to keep in mind in building a safe dynamic. 

So, how do you handle tough conversations? Do you tend to people-please and avoid them, staying silent, and allowing the dysfunction to continue? Or do you tackle the issue quickly but perhaps damage relationship and lose some trust and respect in the process? The truth is we don’t have to ruin relationships in order to uphold accountability. We can have both, it just takes learning some skills and ongoing practice. Where in your life do you need to invite a much-needed conversation and how you will cultivate safety? 


Jocelyn Hamsher