Communicating with courage: how to approach challenging conversations

Written by
Franziska Kohn
March 8, 2023

Turning to difficult situations and conflicts in joint conversations requires courage; also in the work context; even though it is our role and task. 

I too have avoided conflict more than once. I dodged it, looking for other strategies and possible solutions instead of turning to the situation, the conflict, the conversation and finally speaking. 

Why? Because it's uncomfortable. Yes, the situation itself is probably uncomfortable too, but looking at it and talking about it seems to be even worse. Because it's not easy. Because you don't really know how and what to say exactly. Let alone how it will be received by the other person (even if we know that we can't control this anyway). 

There are also concerns and fears within us. Concerns that we are aware of, such as how the other person might react. Or what the consequences might be for everyone involved. As well as aspects that might be unconscious, such as the fear of being rejected if you address the situation. 

But ignoring a difficult situation, looking the other way, pretending it's not there, can cause more damage in the long run. 

Journalist Jo Confino shares a very powerful example on courage and communication in the podcast "The Way in is out" in Episode #46 on "Healthy Boundaries" (min: 20:57) from his time at The Guardian. In it, he describes how a senior colleague who was an editor in a specific field was dealt with. Although these editors usually get the big (cover) stories in their field, in his case they were always given to other editors. No one had the courage to sit down and talk with him. To tell him what they thought he wasn't doing well, what they wanted to be done differently. He describes that on the surface everyone was very nice, but they ignored the difficult situation and thus isolated the colleague more and more until he finally suffered from mental illness.  

"And that really changed my mind away from thinking, Oh, well, it's to be kind, if you just give people positive messages, then that's the way to make people happy. It's not. Because he was suffering. He knew they were taking the stories away because they didn't think he was good enough, but nothing was addressed. So I think that's something that's so important, courage and communication." - Jo Confino 

It supported me to become aware that it takes courage to have difficult conversations, that it's just often not that easy. 

What has also supported me before, during and after such conversations, among other things, is:

Core values and qualities

Knowing my own core values and qualities, which I already embody and want to live into consciously in a particular situation or role.

Clarity and preparation

To gain clarity for myself on what the core points are that I want to communicate. And to be able to name examples of concrete moments. And to write this down and take it with me into the conversation. 

Which role am I showing up in?

To be aware of the fact that I am showing up in a certain role. Not only personally as Franziska, but also, depending on the situation, in the role of colleague, supervisor, co-founder, friend. And that this can also change in the conversation and that it is okay and supportive to simply share this as well.

What is for the good of all?

To be guided by the question: What is the "best", what is for the good of all? Where "all" includes, for example, the team, the organisation, the other person, and myself, depending on the role.

I can't know everything

Knowing that I can't know everything. That my experience is only my reality and others may perceive this quite differently. And that I may not find the right words in the conversation or strike the right tone. Thus I try to cut myself some slack: for this conversation and for future conversations, with an openness to learn, and to listen to myself and the other person.

Help and support

Knowing that I can also ask for help and support before, during, and after.

The list is certainly not exhaustive. However, for me in a leadership role, these are core aspects that I return to over and over again and which continually sustain me. 

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Do you want to learn more?

In our guided group workshops and coaching we address these aspects and you will experience further small practical exercises, tools and approaches that can support you.

So finally some information for anyone who would like to explore and deepen their own capacity for dealing with challenging situations and conversations: 

We also offer support in developing structures for employee feedback conversations and establishing and anchoring an appreciative and clear feedback culture, as well as group workshops on topics such as psychological safety, feedback and much more. More information here.

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About the author
Co-founder of Unity Effect. Conceptualisation and facilitation of interactive online events, workshops and learning series. Passionate about personal development and leadership.
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