The Best Way to Manage Difficult Conversations at Work | Fierce

The start of a new year (not to mention a new decade) often comes with a new set of resolutions and meaningful changes we want to make in our lives, both at work and at home.

When we try to put our intentions into action, we are often met with a universal barrier: fear.

We all experience fear to some degree. It doesn’t always manifest as sweaty palms, timidity, or heart palpitations, either. Sometimes the presence of fear is subtle and sneaky, finding its way into areas of your life where it often goes unnoticed.

We may not attribute certain things to fear, but if you’ve ever found yourself micro-managing other people, dominating a conversation, or lashing out at drivers on the road, fear might be the culprit.

At Fierce, we know fear well. Our leadership training programs are aimed at values and concepts that require a certain degree of bravery to fulfill, including initiating difficult conversations and overcoming the sometimes painful yet common obstacles to success that arise in the workplace.

What we’ve seen time and time again is this: In order to achieve positive, lasting results, fear must first be confronted.

The presence of fear isn’t an issue in itself, and you don’t even have to get rid of it. In fact, you can learn to operate despite fear. However, without investigating it more closely, fear can begin to operate outside of your awareness by showing up as inhibitions that prevent you from experiencing what life could be.

Fear is worthy of a closer look because it plays a causal role in the life you are automatically leading versus the life you’d like to be intentionally creating.

Psychology Today details how surface-level fears boil down to five main core fears that we all share:

  1. Extinction (death)
  2. Mutilation (dismemberment)
  3. Loss of Autonomy (loss of freedom or control)
  4. Separation (rejection, abandonment)
  5. Ego-death (loss of identity)

As a brain exercise, let’s reverse these “don’t-wants” into “wants”:

1. We want to live life to the fullest.
2. We want to be healthy.
3. We want freedom.
4. We want to connect with others.
5. We want to know who we are.

If fear is getting in the way, it’s generally because we’re focused on what we don’t want and what we’re afraid of rather than what we do want.

One effective approach to exposing your own fear is to visualize how things would be different in the best-case scenario. Envision what your environment, your relationships, and your professional achievements would look like in full bloom.

Then, ask yourself:

  • What conversations have you been avoiding with colleagues? What personal perspectives or concerns are you harboring that have yet to be expressed?
  • What have you been telling yourself and others that you’d like to do but have yet to take on?
  • What’s something you’d like to see become reality but have “practical” reasons as to why you can’t follow through?

If you can answer the what aspect of these questions, fear is likely present.

So, what is the cure — the antidote — the alternative?

It’s simple: taking action. Taking action isn’t just a Pollyanna “you can do it” type of platitude — it’s backed by neuroscientific research. A New York Times article on rewriting traumatic memories explains how positive exposure to a feared scenario can lessen fear related to that scenario over time.

It may sound like a daunting task to confront fear, but the objective is not to get rid of fear altogether. Instead, it’s to become aware of it and take action in opposition to it.

Fortunately, baby steps suffice. You may not have that difficult conversation right off the bat, but you can begin planning and preparing for the eventual confrontation.

If you feel reluctant to act, dig a little deeper: if you were to begin taking positive action, what would be the worst-case scenario that could result? What or whom might you lose, and why?

The answer to this question may help you pinpoint the core fear. The greater our awareness of the core fear, the less likely we will be to cave under its weight and give into its well-meaning but often unnecessary warnings.

If you know what you want this year and are committed to following through, ask yourself: What conversations do you need to have to ensure success?

As we all know, actually having the conversation is harder than planning to have it. The good news is there are ways to learn how to have those conversations by taking advantage of training tools, such as webinars and workshops.

Be fierce and begin the process of confronting fear by taking an action today, whether it be big or small, towards what you envision.


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