Travelling by train today, a woman in her mid-twenties sat in the seat in front of me.
Shortly after she sat down, she began to sob loudly – enough to draw the attention of the people in the carriage around her.
The woman sitting beside her – who it turned out had a daughter of a similar age – asked what was wrong.
Their conversation was loud enough that I could easily hear what was being said; I wasn't purposely listening in – honest!!
The younger woman was deeply upset because she had just said goodbye to her boyfriend and was setting off for a year-long working holiday in New Zealand.
While broken-hearted to be leaving her boyfriend, she was also clearly excited about the experience ahead.
Choosing between two things we want that are mutually exclusive – in this case staying close to a loved one and travelling the world – is one of the most stressful experiences we can have.
In the same way, we often try to choose between two things that are mutually exclusive in our workplace conversations. This results in the stressful and difficult conversations that too many people avoid or handle badly. For example:
- Telling someone they didn't get the job they really wanted and yet causing them no pain
- Helping a direct report understand that their performance is unsatisfactory and yet never having to actually say so
- Communicating a major unwelcome change and avoiding any resistance in the process
- Tackling a sensitive subject and still keeping the worms in the can
- Resolving conflict and yet not actually talking about the elephant sitting alongside us at the table
These are all examples of the difficult conversations that people face every day in business. They are difficult because inherent within them are conflicting and mutually exclusive goals.
Being an effective leader means that we must choose the former in each case and have the maturity to accept that we cannot have the latter.
I do hope that the young woman on the train has a fantastic time in New Zealand and that she can accept that doing so means accepting the heartbreak of leaving behind her boyfriend – for now at least.
CommsMasters are specialists in enabling individuals, teams and organisations have the difficult conversations and tackle the sensitive topics that are too often left to fester – at the expense of individual, team and organisational performance. Find out more here or call Tor on +44 (0)141 419 0183.