Having Difficult Conversations: The Risks and Benefits of Conflict Stephanie Dean, LPC, CEAP, Clinical Counselor and Assistant Manager of WLC, discusses why conflict is so difficult and the risks and benefits of having difficult conversations.
Janet McCutchen: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Janet McCutchen with Work/Life Connections. Today, I have the pleasure of meeting with my friend and colleague, Stephanie Dean, who is one of the clinicians here at Work/Life Connections and also the assistant manager. Our topic today is having difficult conversations, and the kind of the conversation we are going to talk about is the kind of conversation that involves conflict or confrontation, and Stephanie why it is so hard to have those conversations either in our personal life or in the workplace? Stephanie Dean: Janet, part of the reason it is really difficult is because people avoid instances where they think they are going to be uncomfortable, so chances are if this is about a conflict or confrontation, it is uncomfortable. So, we avoid pain and move toward something that is more pleasurable. It is also difficult because people do not like conflict. We prefer to avoid it if at all possible. We fear the reactions of others when we have these conversations, how is it is going to go, how will the person respond to me or maybe we fear our own approaches or lack of skill around feeling like we can have this conversation effectively. Janet McCutchen: That makes a lot of sense. So essentially, part of what I am hearing, says that there are risks and benefits, possible benefits to having those conversations which we do not think about. What are some of the risks? Stephanie Dean: Some of the risks are things like is this going to make my relationship more difficult. Am I going to lose a friend or is something is going to go poorly. I think the other difficultly or one of other risks is that if we do not bring things up, problems or conflicts tend to worsen overtime and so may be this is something that I have let, lie around a longtime and now it feels even riskier because it is not something that I brought up before, how am I going to bring that up now. It is now easy to do. Janet McCutchen: That makes sense. So really, a part of what I think I am hearing you say is that there is a risk to not addressing the problem. Stephanie Dean: Absolutely, the risk is rest of the relationships. So if I have had a problem with my spouse for quite some time I have not brought it up, the person might react pretty strongly to the fact that I have not brought it up. Well, why did not you tell me about this? I could have done something. Why did I not know? And in the short term, that makes it a little more difficult. Janet McCutchen: That is a great personal example. You know a lot of times here at Work/Life Connections we do not see people come in until things have come to a head and have become even more difficult. Give us an example of a workplace scenario where perhaps a leader has not addressed an issue with someone hypothetically the example and that has become a major issue. Stephanie Dean: Leaders are no different than anybody else. It is difficult to have those conversations. If you do not feel skilled or if you are just a kind person that would prefer not to engage in those kind of conversations, so… Janet McCutchen: Which is most of us. Stephanie Dean: Which is most of us. It can happen that something is going on and there is a behavior in the workplace that may be an employee is not displaying credo behavior on a regular basis, may be somebody is not acting or behaving the way we would want them to. Over time if that is not addressed by the leader, it is going to come out in other ways. Other employees might begin to complain about this person. They might begin to not want to work with this person and so it grows by virtue of the fact that we have not addressed it. Janet McCutchen: That is also a really good example because we see that quite often. When we think about those difficult conversations, and we weigh the cost and benefit. Let’s say for example that we do decide to have that conversation. How is follow up important? Stephanie Dean: Follow up is very important, Janet, and part of the reason for that is. It is difficult to have this conversation and so the idea that we are going to have one conversation and that is somehow going to change somebody’s behavior or fix an ongoing problem, probably is not very realistic. So if you are my manager and you talked me about an issue and I do not get any follow up, a couple of things can happen. One, I can assume that everything is fine and maybe it is not or I can wonder why we are not continuing to have an ongoing conversation about this. So, it is important to follow up and it does not matter whether it is in the workplace or in your personal life. The one-and-done usually does not work. Janet McCutchen: That makes sense, and also, it is nice to hear if you are on track too. Is not, it? Stephanie Dean: Exactly. We all prefer to hear the good stuff. Janet McCutchen: Thanks for your time today. Any of our listeners either someone who has been on the receiving end of difficult conversation or someone who might need to learn similar skills around it, please see us as a resource and I thank you fundamentally addressed some questions people having. Maybe you have gotten people to think a little bit about that today. Thanks so much for your time. Stephanie Dean: My pleasure. Janet McCutchen: Thanks for listening. 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