Why Leaders Avoid Difficult Conversations: Lesson 5

Posted by on Oct 12, 2013 in Leadership Lessons | 3 comments

This is the fifth lesson in a five part series of why leaders avoid difficult conversations. If you missed the previous posts please click below to catch up.

Lesson 1: They are not clear
Lesson 2: They let the problem go on for too long
Lesson 3: They don’t trust
Lesson 4: They don’t know how

The fifth reason leaders avoid difficult conversations is because they simply aren’t willing.
Not willing to do what you ask?  Glad you asked!  They are unwilling to be uncomfortable and they are unwilling to be wrong.

When I talk with leaders about difficult conversations I often hear a re-occurring theme that goes like this: “I tried to set a boundary, but they didn’t hear me.”

The reason a boundary doesn’t work is because after you set the boundary, the employee pouts, or manipulates, and then you shift your direction to go to the island called, “Making sure Sally understands.”

In other words, the leader is more committed to being liked and understood than to keep the boundary.  It’s uncomfortable to make a decision when you are misunderstood or when it means that the person will not like you because of your decision. It’s also uncomfortable to come back and actually enforce a boundary.

Leaders are also unwilling to be wrong. We often think that it’s just employees who complain and blame, but I see a fair share of leaders who continue to think the problem belongs to everyone else.  Until you are willing to see the tiny part you played in the problem, you really have no power at all. You can fire, you can hire, you can scream and yell, but in the end you really can’t change anyone but yourself.

Action Steps

1. Make a list of the times you avoid a conversation because of your fear of discomfort.

2. Ask yourself if your higher commitment is to “being right” or to being excellent.

Learning how to have a difficult conversation that produces positive results is a product of enlightened leadership. You must be clear about what you want, address the problem immediately, trust yourself, practice the skills and be willing to be wrong at times. The need to be right feeds the ego, but the willingness to be wrong changes a culture.


  1. Hi Marlene,
    Just wanted to let u know, I have learned a lot off your books, the drama in the work place, and i too thought I was always right , until I opened my eyes to different things happening and taking a look at myself as well as the associate. Things are running smoother, and I didn’t want to approach certain problems because I didn’t have the appropriate time to do so. And time would go by and then it was too late to address the problems, for the time that went by. But I don’t let time go by any more, I approach the problem right then, and I do it in a discreet way and take the associate to the office and sit down and discuss the problem.
    I am learning a lot and I will continue to learn because I want to, and I want to be the best that I can be on my job and get my staff to be the best they can be, so they can step up the ladder and opportunitys that they can apply themselves to.

  2. Thank you for sharing this series of lessons. Very practical and timely.

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>