A shocking number of employees would rather quit than have a tough conversation at work

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Cat got your tongue?

A staggering 80% of employees are avoiding a difficult conversation at work, according to new poll of over 600 respondents from leadership training company Vitalsmarts.

They’re putting off these talks as long as they can – 25% have postponed their big talk for six months, one in 10 for a whole year, and another one in 10 for two entire years.

Confidence in conversation is a major obstacle. Respondents say they’re holding off because they don’t have the confidence to bring up the issue or tackle the conversation. One in five admit they’re just not confident that they’ll be successful outcome once they have the dreaded conversation. (Only one in 10 say they are “very to extremely” confident their scary conversation will go well).

Avoidance, however, is key – however self-destructive. Here are the measures people reported they have resorted to in order to avoid that uncomfortable, awkward chat with a manager or boss:

  • 50% avoided the other person any way they could
  • 37% danced around the uncomfortable topic whenever they spoke to that person
  • 37% thought about quitting their job or taking a different job
  • 11% simply quit their actual job

What subject might be broached that people would so far as quitting? Well, performance, as well as broken promises and distasteful behaviors.

But the deeper reasons include fear – fear that saying something would result in consequences, fear of negative effects from employees or managers, fear that they misjudged the workplace culture and that it doesn’t support speaking up after all, and fear that they do not, in fact, have the skill to speak up at all.

Justin Hale, Master Trainer at VitalSmarts, says there’s a way to coach people through these tough workplace conversations. First and foremost, he suggests having them face-to-face in a private area.

  1. Start with facts. Just facts, not emotion. Instead of saying, “You ridiculed by ideas at the last meeting,” you might say what actually happened: “In the last meeting, you laughed after I presented my ideas. Honestly, that really surprised me.”
  2. Use tentative language. Hale suggests using “tentative” language at this point because they may see or remember things differently. “What we don’t mean is for people to be mousy or unsure – we mean to balance confidence and humility.” Say things about the issue like, “I’m not sure you intended it this way, but…” or, “I’m not sure if this is accurate, but here’s what I’ve come to the conclusion of.” (That’s different than, “You don’t care,” or “You’re not a team playing.”) Tentative language leaves some breathing room for both of you.
  3. Ask for their opinion. “Here’s what I think but what do you think?,” says Hale. “The measure of a good question is the degree to which it invites difference, and I tell people to ask a question that opens up dialogue – that invites different perspectives.”
  4. If things get heated, you need to make it safe. “You need to create psychological safety – you need to help the other person understand that you have good intentions. There are a couple of big things that you can do to help them trust your intent. You can help them understand that you care about what they care about – we call that mutual purpose. The second is that you respect them.
  5. Closing out. You don’t want to treat it like the end of a meeting, Hale says, but if the feeling is right, you can agree to follow up with each other in a couple of weeks.

Crucial conversations are, well, crucial, says Hale. “There are specific types of crucial conversations that are really tripping people up…. there are some that are especially intimidating, so we don’t end up holding them – and that has a cost. We’re interested in how individuals and families and teams and organizations hold the conversations that scare them the most – because we often find that [those conversations] are often the ones that have a lot hinging on them.”