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Being in uncomfortable situations is not what most people would consider ideal. Avoiding these situations seems a part of human nature. We seek comfort, and love to live in that zone; it’s nice and safe and working just fine for us, thank you very much.
The problem with the comfort zone is just that. It’s comfortable. And comfort, while pleasant, is not where progress is found. It can be easy to try and avoid uncomfortable situations, especially with coworkers, especially if it seems like the situation is brief and rocking the boat with a conflict would cause more discomfort. However, a lot of the time this sort of avoidance of communication can lead to greater issues, interpersonally and within the structure of a business. When people disagree, often one will submit to the other just to keep the peace. But the difference of opinions, the butting of heads that can happen between coworkers, that can be a great resource for development and positive change.
When you’re leading an organization, the aim should always be to have a positive and inclusive work environment. In doing so, you’re working with a diverse group of people with a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. This is definitely a huge asset when problem solving, as you have access to so many minds with a wide range of strategies for approaching and solving problems. However, with this many minds and differing approaches to critical thinking, people are bound to butt heads. This is when these trickier conversations begin to arise. Often, when difficult conversations are left alone to avoid rocking the boat, they can fester and become even more difficult the longer they are left alone.
Imagine you recognized an issue in the daily proceedings in your workplace that was causing a minor issue now but could really clog up the works in about two months. But when you went to your superior to point this issue out, they responded with a classic “This is how it’s always been done, I don’t see why we should change something that’s working.” So, you leave it alone, avoiding further conflict. Those two months pass, and a serious problem emerges, one much harder to deal with than it would’ve been when you initially realized it.
The person in leadership should be open to receiving new ideas and recognizing how new input can improve the workings of the workplace. It should also be possible to have conversations and learn why your idea wasn’t feasible at the moment, or a new approach entirely could be developed by a small team. But the difficult conversation was avoided and caused a bigger issue than it needed to be. This happens all the time, often due to nervousness around communication. Developing powerful communication skills is a key element of leadership, and encouraging teams to develop their own skills will help their confidence in communicating with all levels of employee within the organization.
The goal of these conversations isn’t to elevate emotions, or to win an argument; conversations where we experience discomfort should be centered around finding a solution to whatever problem we’re presented with. Often these tricky talks can lead to impressive problem solving, especially when a leader facilitates a healthy discourse within the team they’re leading. As mentioned before, a diverse team will have diverse backgrounds between its members, which can lead to conflict. But conflict is a great tool for innovation! Facilitating a space where individuals can express their ideas and opinions, hear the ideas and opinions of others, and collaborate in a positive manner to create a meeting of minds, that’s where the magic happens. This is stepping outside of the comfort zone we know and love, into a space where creativity is allowed to bloom, and innovation can grow.
Providing clarity around performance metrics can be a great product of a difficult conversation as well. Employees who aren’t aware their performance isn’t up to requirements can’t make the necessary changes leadership would love to see. Having a clear, honest discussion with them can bring that performance to where it needs to be! While it’s easy for individuals to feel strongly during these conversations, remember; empathy is your best friend. Speak with kindness and understanding, note that it isn’t meant to be a personal attack, and clarify their good and not so great areas of performance. Great leaders inspire their people coming out of these talks to be reaching for the stars, not down in the dumps! By being an effective communicator and embracing the power of conflict (and by extension, conflict resolution), progress with each individual and within the organization happens efficiently. Performance goes up, efficiency goes up, your relationship with that team member goes up too!
Tough conversations can be unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. A strong leader knows these conversations aren’t about winning, they’re about learning, especially during disagreements. Within an organization, there are people with such diverse backgrounds and experiences that there is always something to learn from each conversation. By being open to conversations that encourage communication between conflicting sides, a leader can learn from each person’s experiences and solve a miscommunication or determine the best approach to solve a problem!