Take our free Leadership Assessment
Liz Weber Blog Header

Fear of Difficult Conversations


Fear of Difficult ConversationsIt's been happening more and more. Clients are complaining about their managers' inappropriate behaviors, lack of management skills, and inability to take on greater responsibilities. Yet, when I ask if they have discussed the problem areas with their managers, they say, "It won't do any good. I talked to them about this years ago and they never changed."

Why do so many of us fear having difficult conversations with our managers and other members of our staffs? Why do we choose to not address poor or inappropriate performance? Are we afraid of the potential conflict? Are we afraid we might hurt someone's feelings? Are we afraid someone might cry?

Whatever your reasoning for not addressing poor performance, let me remind you that as the leader you are accountable to know what your manager’s job is (a manager’s responsibility is to ensure the work gets done) and that it's done correctly. I hate to sound cold now, but if a certain piece of equipment started to malfunction and churn out parts that were not up to standard, would you simply stand by and let it continue to spew defective parts? No. You would shut down the unit, determine the cause of the malfunction, and then fix it. It is conceivable that you would stand by the machine to monitor it as it restarts production to ensure the parts are being produced correctly again. You may even continue to interact with and tweak the machine until it operates the way you know it can and should. So why don't you do the same thing with your people?

Fear of potential conflict, hurt feelings, tears, or some other possible reaction holds you back. By not having those difficult conversations you are allowing poor performance to continue, less-than-acceptable products or services to be produced, as well as almost certainly decreasing the opportunity for overall morale to exist and grow. And that's simply not right.


  1. Be crystal clear about the subject of your conversation with your employees.

    You will be addressing a fact: poor performance.

  2. Don't let yourself become consumed with the potential reactions you may or may not be confronted with.

    Your employees may appreciate that you are now asking them to work with you in developing a mutually agreeable plan of action to correct the issue.

  3. To deal with anger, hurt feelings, or tears...

    Remember your intent in having this conversation (to address performance) and remind your employees. “I did not mean to hurt your feelings. I meant to have a conversation on performance.”

That simple clarification, shared with an upset employee, is often enough to help refocus the conversation back to the true topic. Try it. You have nothing to fear…and it may just work. It has potential.


Copyright MMVII Liz Weber, CMC, CSP - Weber Business Services, LLC.


Liz Weber CMCLiz Weber, CMC CSP

Liz Weber coaches, consults, and trains leadership teams. She specializes in strategic and succession planning, and leadership development.

Liz is one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to hold both the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designations.

Contact Liz’s office at +1.717.597.8890 for more info on how Liz can help you, or click here to have Liz’s office contact you.

Copyright © Weber Business Services, LLC All rights reserved.


5 thoughts on “Fear of Difficult Conversations”

  1. Denise says:

    Great tips Liz! It's so true that people can spend inordinate amounts of time worrying and playing out an imaginary script. Of course, the movie playing out in their heads is often worse than reality will ever be. And the truth is, everyone will survive the conversation. I'd love your feedback to my videos on this topic where I share tips I've learned that will help managers give feedback that actually motivates and builds relationship. https://brillianceinc.com/feedbackvideo/
    Thanks and Happy New Year! Denise

    1. Liz Weber says:

      Denise - Your analogy of managers seeing "the movie playing out in their heads is often worse than reality will ever be" is perfect! Managers so often see the drama in "their own scripted movie" they don't address the reality they re facing! I'll take a look at your video Denise and look forward to connect with you on Twitter or my Lead or Leave page on Facebook! Liz

  2. Great tips Liz. I like your direct professional approach to getting to the point. Best, Diane

    1. Liz Weber says:

      Thanks Diane - I just discussed this with a colleague over lunch. Quit making this more difficult than it needs to be! Take care -

  3. Aditi Chopra says:

    Nice article. Difficult conversations like these are uncomfortable for most people but quite necessary in some circumstances. The key is to be honest and look for a win-win.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Leave A Comment

Posted by Liz Weber CMC on January 3, 2012 in Leadership Development and tagged , , , ,